Tirado's family begs for his life, asking court's mercy


His hands shaking and his face showing "remorse and pain," Eric Tirado pleaded with a Catholic priest visiting him in jail to show him the section in the New Testament "where it says God forgives people."

The Rev. William Mormon, a chaplain at the Howard County jail who has been counseling Tirado in recent weeks, said he met with him last Thursday, just after he was convicted of the March 1990 slaying of a state trooper.

"He was doubled over and wailing, and he kept saying, 'I'll never be forgiven,' " the priest testified.

Father Mormon's portrait of a shy, withdrawn man is sharply at odds with the frosty public demeanor Tirado, who faces the death penalty, displayed during his monthlong trial. The personality was "masked by a wall of Hispanic machismo or whatever," and it crumbled under a wave of emotion, the priest said.

Throughout the day, members of Tirado's family pleaded with the jury of seven men and five women who would decide the fate of the Bronx, N.Y., man they convicted of shooting Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf twice in the face as he sat in his cruiser on Interstate 95 writing a speeding ticket.

"Don't do that . . . please. He is not a bad boy," begged his mother, Mary Tirado, sobbing and wiping her eyes with a tissue. "Oh, my God."

Wiping his glistening, tear-stained cheeks with a handkerchief,Michael Tirado, the 56-year-old father of the defendant, offered to take his son's place. "I would sit right there," he said, gesturing to his son, who had his head bowed and for the first time publicly was dabbing his tears. "All my life is my kids."

As he left the stand, the burly garment district worker who emigrated from Puerto Rico 45 years ago hugged his son. "I love you," he said.

Besides the death sentence, the jury has the option of returning with a sentence of life imprisonment without parole or a life term with the possibility of parole.

"Please don't give him the death penalty," Mrs. Tirado pleaded. "It's all I ask."

Mrs. Tirado and her daughter, 36, told the jury that Tirado became sullen and "changed" his personality for the worse after he resigned from the New York City Police Academy in April 1988, failing in his bid to become a transit officer. They said he quit because he was harassed by one of the instructors.

However, Timothy Wolf, an assistant Howard County state's attorney, suggested during cross-examination that Tirado left because he had "problems with representations he made on his application and for a lack of attendance."

The emotional courtroom drama crested when the defendant's 2-year-old son, "E.J.," burst out crying and was taken outside. Moments later, Tirado's estranged wife, Guadelupe Rodriguez, said her husband was "not himself anymore" after leaving the police academy.

"He held himself in, and he did not want to go out. He wanted just to be by himself," she recalled. She said she would "feel destroyed" if Tirado were given the death penalty.

During Father Mormon's testimony, Mr. Wolf pressed him on his opposition to the death penalty.

"Isn't it safe to say you are opposed to the death penalty?" the prosecutor asked.

The parish priest, trained as a pastoral counselor, said the issue has given him pause because his brother-in-law is a police officer.

"But, I am in the position in which I preach the sanctity of life, whatever the crime. I am against death," he said.

He agreed that persons should be held responsible for their actions but argued that "one horrible, impulsive act does not speak for a man's entire life."

The prosecutor pressed the priest on the extent of Tirado's remorse, saying "he did not mention how he felt when he pulled the trigger on Corporal Wolf or express remorse to Corporal Wolf and his family."

Father Mormon said Tirado "did not mention them by name, but there are many things I don't ask. I don't ask an inmate what he is convicted of because I do not want to categorize them as a murderer," when counseling them.

Concerned about the impact on the jury of the tear-filled testimony and pleas for mercy, the state tried unsuccessfully to have two rebuttal witnesses testify that Tirado made an obscene gesture to Virginia Wolf, the trooper's widow, as he left the parking lot in a sheriff's car last Thursday.

Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane refused to allow the testimony at a bench conference.

Judge Kane told the jury he expected them to begin deliberating Monday afternoon after Tirado makes a special plea for mercy, the attorneys give their final arguments and the judge specifies his instructions.

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