Sentencing stripped bravado from Eric Tirado


Eric Joseph Tirado took pity on himself yesterday. Without a gun in his hand, he became this naked soul pleading for mercy and sobbing that he didn't want to die. It was pretty moving stuff, unless you remembered why he was standing there: for putting two bullets into a cop who stopped him for a traffic violation and never had a chance to plead for his own life.

"I beg you not to sentence me to death," Tirado cried. Somebody should have put it on film. They should show this on television for all the creeps who pack guns on our streets and think themselves very brave against helpless people. They should show a pathetic Tirado, who had no mercy when he shot Maryland State Police trooper Ted Wolf in the face. They should show him crying like a baby in a Howard County courtroom yesterday when his own existence was on the line.

They should show Tirado's parents sitting there in their sorrow and their humiliation, holding handkerchiefs to their eyes as their son's life teetered before them, and then they should show the family of Ted Wolf, sitting there dry-eyed because there are almost no tears left for them to cry.

And they should show the jury coming back last night and sentencing Tirado to to life in prison without parole.

"I'm sorry, deeply sorry for all the pain I have caused," Tirado had said, and his voice broke in a sob. His father, Miguel Tirado, put a protective arm around his wife, Mary. She wept silently.

A niece and nephew, elementary school age, brought in to show the jury what a fine family man Tirado is, looked around the room with awed little faces.

Several seats down the same row sat Ted Wolf's family. They looked emotionally spent. It is 16 months now since Wolf stopped Tirado for speeding, and Tirado put a gun at Wolf's lips and shot and then shot again.

"I'm still plagued by horrible uncertainties," Virginia Wolf, the trooper's widow, said in a statement read to the jury yesterday. Rain spilled out of a gray sky as an assistant state's attorney read her words. "I still have horrible nightmares during my few hours of fitful sleep. I wonder if there will ever come a time when a song on the radio or a TV commercial or a phrase in someone's conversation will not trigger a bittersweet memory, reducing me to tears or sending me to the depths of depression."

Eric Tirado was struggling, too, yesterday and failing badly. He clutched a little piece of note paper in his hands and struggled to find his composure. He never did.

"I don't want to die," he cried, standing a few feet in front of the jury. "I don't want to put my family through the pain. I seek forgiveness of God every day." His voice broke. "I hadn't seen my son for over a year. I saw him Friday for the first time."

Now his composure went away, and Tirado struggled to bring it back. "He doesn't even know me," Tirado said, "and he called me daddy. I may never see him again."

Nobody needed to say the obvious. Ted Wolf will never see his family again either. He was a cop doing routine work, but the routine work of police today increasingly involves the use of guns and the mindlessness of those who carry them.

The state of Maryland hasn't executed anyone for three decades, ever since a convicted murderer named Nathaniel Lipscomb went to the gas chamber. But the state fights harder for capital punishment when a cop goes down. It's the bargain society makes with them: We understand you make your life vulnerable to protect ours, and in return we will promise to avenge your death.

But in Maryland, it hasn't worked out that way. Hundreds of innocents are killed each year, often a police officer or two among them. The convicted go behind bars, and remain there while the courts conduct their endless litigation.

"I beg you not to sentence me to death," Eric Tirado begged the jury yesterday.

Nobody had to say the obvious, but prosecutor Mike Rexroad did, anyway. Ted Wolf never had a chance to beg for his life. There were no pleas for mercy the night he was killed, just the metal barrel of a gun placed at his lips and then a shot fired quickly in the dark.

When he was finished pleading for his own life, Eric Tirado walked back to the defense table, glanced at his parents and then at his attorneys, and he cried softly, "Oh, God, help me." His father rose and bolted from the courtroom, trying to control himself. His sister and his niece wept into their hands. A priest who has met with Tirado tried to console the family. His name is Father Bill Mormon.

Last week, the priest testified, Tirado came to him carrying a copy of the New Testament and asking, "Father, father, where does it say in here that God forgives us?"

That's something for the authorities on faith to figure out. In times of trouble, that's where people turn. In Eric Tirado's time of crisis, when all other help was gone, he wanted everyone to find him repentant and nice.

He wept. His attorney, Mark Van Bavel, argued passionately for him. His family clutched their handkerchiefs and, in a moment during instructions to the jury, passed around candies to sweeten their mouths. The candies were Life Savers.

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