Judge lets deal stand in Wolf case Killer's plea bargain can't be voided

police, trooper's widow angry

January 15, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

A Howard circuit judge let stand yesterday a plea agreement in the 1990 murder of Maryland State Police Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf, dismaying the victim's widow and leaving law enforcement agencies scrambling to find a way to lengthen the sentence of the killer's accomplice.

In the long-awaited ruling, Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. decided that the plea agreement with Francisco Rodriguez cannot be voided because, essentially, a deal is a deal. The once-secret agreement gave Rodriguez a 15-year sentence for his cooperation, the same number of years he was serving on an unrelated drug charge.

"This court is not permitted the luxury of hindsight," Kane wrote in a 20-page opinion. "Having imposed a lawful sentence in accordance with the agreement, it may not now, without the consent of the parties, rescind the agreement."

Kane's decision drew an immediate reaction from Wolf's widow, who vowed that she was "not done" battling for Rodriguez to serve a longer jail term for her husband's murder.

"I'm really very disappointed in the fact that [Kane] said the plea agreement was fine and dandy," said Ginni Wolf.

Said Patrick Jameson, president of the State Law Enforcement Officers Labor Alliance: "We're not going to give up this battle easily. We're going to do whatever it takes to see that justice is eventually done."

Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon -- whose predecessor made the plea agreement -- said her office will decide within the next two weeks whether to put Rodriguez on trial again, this time on charges of conspiracy to commit murder.

Rodriguez's attorney called that idea "unconscionable."

"It is simply another attempt to avoid the impact of the [prosecutors' original] decision and the judge's ruling," Assistant Public Defender Thomas J. Saunders said.

Saunders said he considers it "inappropriate" for prosecutors to backtrack on the plea agreement, regardless of whether it was made under a previous administration.

"The fact that the [current] prosecutor might not have made the same decision is not grounds for coming in and implying there was misconduct on the part of the prosecutors" who made the deal, he said.

Saunders said that part of the push against Rodriguez is political. The Maryland State Troopers Association -- which strongly objects to the plea bargain -- is an important political group, he said. Both McLendon and Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry Barnes -- who served as special prosecutor for the case -- are up for re-election in 1998.

McLendon and Barnes vehemently denied the assertion.

"Politics have nothing to do with it. Both of us looked at the agreement and were repulsed," McLendon said. "I believe both Jerry Barnes and myself will do anything we legally can to ensure justice."

When Rodriguez pleaded guilty to first-degree murder he agreed to testify against co-defendant Eric Tirado at any trial or retrial. The agreement stated that once all Tirado's appeals were exhausted, Rodriguez would have all but 15 years of his life sentence suspended.

Tirado was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Rodriguez's testimony, however, was never used.

Because Rodriguez's murder sentence runs concurrently with his federal sentence on drug charges -- also 15 years, ending in 2006 -- those opposed to the plea agreement say he is not spending a single day in jail for killing an officer in the line of duty.

Since the plea agreement -- initially sealed at the request of prosecutors -- first became public last summer, Ginni Wolf and her allies have vigorously fought it.

In a December hearing, Barnes argued that Kane had been misled about the plea negotiations and Rodriguez's criminal record when the judge approved the agreement six years ago. Barnes was brought in as special prosecutor because some involved in the original agreement still work in the Howard state's attorney's office.

In the opinion issued yesterday, Kane said that even if fraud had been committed by prosecutors, he would not revoke the plea agreement because his action would benefit the prosecutor's office, which wants Rodriguez retried.

Wolf was shot twice in the head March 29, 1990, after stopping Rodriguez and Tirado, both of New York, for speeding on Interstate 95 in Jessup. Rodriguez admitted participating in the murder and was sentenced to life in prison in 1991, subject to the terms of the plea agreement.

At the hearing last month, prosecutors also alleged that Rodriguez was not entitled to have the agreement put into effect because Tirado had not finished all his appeals.

Prosecutors say the plea agreement covers the possibility that Rodriguez might have to testify in any new trial which Tirado got through post-conviction relief -- a proceeding in which a prisoner typically questions his conviction on allegations of ineffective trial or appellate counsel. Under state law, Tirado has three more years to file such requests, prosecutors said.

Saunders disputed that reading of the plea agreement.

Kane said in the opinion that he would schedule an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the agreement covered such proceedings.

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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