William Brooks wore a look of frustration as he walked away from Howard County Circuit Court. The state trooper he had known and worked with for 14 years was dead and his murderer had just escaped the gas chamber.
"He got off too easy," Brooks, frowning, said about Eric Joseph Tirado, the Bronx, N.Y., man who last night was sentenced by a jury to life in prison without parole for killing Maryland State Police Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf last year.
Prosecutors were seeking the death penalty for Tirado, 27, who earlier yesterday begged the jury in a tearful plea to spare his life.
Brooks, a corporal at the State Police Waterloo barracks, said he now would have to live with the jury's verdict. He took consolation in the knowledge Tirado never again would be free.
"If he couldn't be sentenced to death, I guess [life without parole] is better than him being out in 25 years," he said.
At the Waterloo barracks in Jessup, where Wolf had a reputation as an outstanding officer and a star softball player, there was a mixture of disappointment and satisfaction.
Brooks' sister, Melody, a police communications officer, said troopers were contacting her all night to find out if a verdict had been reached. The jury finally rendered its decision about 9 p.m. after deliberating for eight hours.
"I had an upset stomach all day worrying about tonight," she said. "Of course we're disappointed."
Melody Brooks, who said she is close to Wolf's family, said the barracks haven't been the same since the murder.
"For people like me and his parents and his little grandmother, it will never end," she said. "We will live with this for the rest of our lives. Every day here is a memory of Teddy."
Sgt. Robert Jones said Tirado "got what he deserved."
"I guess some people were disappointed here," said Jones, who started working at Waterloo last December. "Others felt the jury made a just decision. We're glad it's over. Now it's just time to move on."
Trooper Phil Metz, a softball teammate of Wolf's, said he had hoped for the death penalty.
"Everybody was anticipating something," he said. "We just felt he took Teddy's life and he should have to pay the consequences for what he did."
That sentiment was expressed yesterday on a placard on Interstate 95 near the Md. 175 overpass where Wolf's blood-stained body was found slumped over the wheel of his police cruiser early March 29, 1990. The sign read: "An Eye for an Eye."
Howard County Police Chief James N. Robey, who stopped by the courthouse in Ellicott City after the verdict, said he was convinced the jury did what it thought was correct, but said he was disturbed Tirado did not get the death penalty.
"As far as society is concerned, he's off the street for life," Robey said. "I just think if ever there's a crime that warranted the death penalty, this was it."
OC One of the mitigating circumstances that guided the jury's deci
sion not to impose the death sentence was doubt over whether Tirado was the principal actor, or trigger man, in the shooting.
Michael D. Rexroad, the assistant state's attorney who was the lead prosecutor in the case, declined to say whether he now would seek the death penalty against another Bronx man charged in Wolf's murder.
Francisco Rodriguez, 21, who the prosecution and defense said was with Tirado on the night of the shooting, is being held in Virginia on his conviction of federal drug charges and will be tried for murder later.
Tirado's jury indicated it had compassion for his family and the potential exists for him to serve some good in prison. His lawyer, Mark A. Van Bavel, had said in his closing arguments yesterday that Tirado could help steer young inmates away from a life of crime.
Some members of the jury said in their presentation to the court of mitigating factors that they had mercy for Tirado, were satisfied that he showed remorse and were swayed by the good he showed earlier in his life.
Virginia "Ginni" Wolf, the trooper's widow, made a brief statement after the verdict.
"Naturally, I think he should have gotten the maximum penalty for what he did to Teddy," she said. "I know it was a hard decision."
Rexroad said he was "disappointed to some extent," but that since no one has been executed in Maryland since 1961, Tirado's penalty was severe.
Van Bavel called the verdict a victory and said Tirado, who showed no emotion as it was delivered, was "very relieved." He said Tirado's emotional plea to the jury, in which he asked for a chance to become a better person, "had a great deal of impact."
Tirado's voice had cracked in a five-minute statement yesterday as he pleaded with the jury for life in prison instead of death.
"I understand the pain I have caused the family of Trooper Wolf," he said. He said he felt shame and regret for his actions. "I would like to say I'm sorry, deeply sorry for the pain I have caused."
He told the jury he also was sorry for hurting his own family. He told them he hadn't seen his young son in more than a year and wanted to build a relationship with the boy.
Tirado said he could accept being in prison for the rest of his life because he could continue to play a part in the lives of his family.
He is being held at the county Detention Center until he is processed by the state Department of Correction.