Hindsight on deal for trooper's killer Disputed plea bargain: Easy to second-guess, but prosecution of Wolf's slayer was key.

October 14, 1997

AN editorial yesterday incorrectly stated the terms of a plea agreement for Francisco Rodriguez. He was convicted as an accomplice in the 1990 murder of State Police Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf. The deal called for Rodriguez to serve 15 years of a life sentence, rather than the full life sentence. The Sun regrets the error.

THE MOST important goal for prosecutors in the 1990 slaying of State Police Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf was to incarcerate the person who pulled the trigger in that chilling pre-dawn crime along Interstate 95 near Jessup.

After an exhaustive manhunt, police found the shooter, Eric Tirado. It was up to prosecutors to build a case that was strong enough to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt of the man's guilt. They succeeded.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The jury's sentence assures that Tirado will spend the rest of his life in prison.

In building their case, prosecutors believed it was critical to gain the cooperation of Tirado's companion, Francisco Rodriguez. He had accompanied Tirado on their way home to the Bronx from Virginia in a stolen car on I-95 the morning of the trooper's murder. Rodriguez did not pull the trigger.

Prosecutors made a deal with Rodriguez: He would agree to help prosecutors convict Tirado, and would plead guilty to first-degree murder. The state, in turn, would request that a judge sentence Rodriguez to life in prison.

What has angered the trooper's widow, Ginni Wolf of Glen Burnie, and others is a provision that the sentence would run concurrently with a federal drug conviction Rodriguez has been serving for a crime that was committed before the murder. This makes it possible, though highly unlikely, that he could serve no time for his role in the officer's slaying. He could become eligible for parole after serving 13 years.

Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. accepted the plea agreement, before taking the unusual step of sealing the document. (This newspaper filed a motion, which was denied, to open the plea agreement.)

As questionable as the deal seems in hindsight, it made sense at the time. The prosecutors could not risk letting the trooper's killer get away. Also, Rodriguez' deal is not as sweet as it might appear. The majority of inmates given life sentences -- even those without no-parole status -- die in prison. Although Rodriguez would be eligible for parole in 2003, his conviction for killing a police officer makes his chances of success almost nil.

The deal has come under sharp criticism. But the agreement was part of a larger process that put Corporal Wolf's killers in prison -- and likely will keep them there for the rest of their lives.

Pub Date: 10/14/97

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