News

Police ambush killer's mother begs for his life

Written by Michael Rubinkam/Associated Press | Apr 24, 2017 3:18 PM
eric_frein3.jpg

Photo by AP Photo/Rich Schultz


(Milford) -- The mother of a survivalist who ambushed two Pennsylvania State Police troopers made an emotional appeal for her son's life Monday, telling jurors who are weighing the death penalty for him, "I want my son to be saved."

Both of Eric Frein's parents testified during the penalty phase of their son's capital murder trial as his lawyers try to persuade the jury to sentence him to life without parole for the murder of Cpl. Bryon Dickson II.

Frein killed Dickson, a 38-year-old father of two, and left a second trooper with debilitating injuries when he opened fire outside the Blooming Grove state police barracks in 2014. He was captured after a 48-day manhunt.

Deborah Frein told jurors her son has been made out to be a monster, "and that's not who he is at all."
"I don't know what happened, but no sane person would do what he did," she sobbed.

Prosecutors say Frein, 33, targeted the troopers at random in hopes of sparking a revolution. He was convicted last week of murder of a law enforcement officer, terrorism and other offenses.

Monday's session was delayed for hours after Frein showed up in court appearing disheveled and unsteady on his feet. His defense team said he was refusing to communicate with them and asked the judge for a mental competency exam.

Defense lawyer Michael Weinstein said he learned from jail officials that "he would not walk, would not talk, was staring off into space and had to be brought here in a wheelchair."

Frein had been placed under a suicide watch at the jail and was consequently monitored 24 hours a day with the lights on, said Weinstein, adding Frein had not slept since Wednesday. He denounced his client's treatment as "torture."

Prosecutors accused Frein of malingering, and the judge refused the defense request.

His lawyers are working to spare Frein's life in part by suggesting he had issues with his father, whom he tried desperately to emulate but could never measure up. Frein was a college dropout who spent most of his time in his bedroom in his parents' house, with whom he lived into his 30s.

"I failed Eric as a father," Eugene Michael Frein testified Monday. He apologized to his son and added: "I do love him or I wouldn't be here."

Michael Frein told jurors he spent 28 years in the military -- retiring as an Army major -- but lied to Eric by claiming he'd been wounded in Vietnam, when in reality he never went to Vietnam or saw combat. He said he also falsely claimed to have been a sniper.

Eric Frein grew up hearing "false stories of a hero," in a household that glorified war and combat, and sought to follow in his father's footsteps, Weinstein said.

Michael Frein told the jury he thought his son would join the military. Instead, Eric Frein became a military re-enactor. The gunman -- one of three children -- lied and told his parents he had graduated from college.

"I failed him by not pushing him harder," said Michael Frein, who has a doctorate in microbiology and worked in the pharmaceutical industry producing vaccines. "I lied to him, so I failed there too."

Frein added he shared his political views with his son, telling Eric that "government's too big" and citing a number of cases in which police had shot and killed suspects as "bad police work."

But he said he never encouraged Eric Frein to target police.

"If he had a plan to shoot or kill anybody I would've stopped him," Michael Frein said.

Eric Frein wrote a letter to his parents while on the run in which he advocated revolution to "get us back the liberties we once had."

Prosecutors suggested Michael Frein's testimony was nothing more than a defense gambit.

The jury learned he had a conversation with his son on April 14, which was recorded by the jail, and told Eric, "It is not your fault. Your father is a nut job. That is going to be your defense."

Frein's mother, meanwhile, claimed Dickson's family had "closure" because they had been able to bury him.

"My heart breaks for them but they have closure. We will never have closure. Never," she said.

Her son dabbed away tears as defense attorneys displayed photos of his family. It was the first time he had shown any emotion during a three-week trial in which prosecutors showed photos of the slain trooper with his own children.

An earlier story appears below.

(Milford) -- The father of a survivalist who ambushed two state police troopers, killing one of them, said Monday that he failed his son by lying about his military exploits and by not pushing him harder to grow up.

Eugene "Michael" Frein, 67, testified during the penalty phase of his son's capital murder trial. He apologized to Eric Frein and added: "I do love him or I wouldn't be here."

Eric Frein, 33, was convicted of capital murder last week in the 2014 attack that killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson II and wounded a second trooper. He faces a potential death sentence.

His father's appearance on the witness stand came hours after Frein showed up in court disheveled and unsteady on his feet. His lawyers said he was refusing to communicate with them and asked the judge for a mental competency exam. Prosecutors accused Frein of malingering, and the judge refused the defense request.

Frein's lawyers are working to spare their client's life in part by blaming his father.

Michael Frein told jurors he spent 28 years in the military -- retiring as an Army major -- but lied to Eric by claiming he'd been wounded in Vietnam, when in reality he never saw combat. He said he also falsely claimed to have been a sniper.

Eric Frein grew up hearing "false stories of a hero" and sought to emulate his father, defense lawyer Michael Weinstein said.

Michael Frein told the jury he thought his son would join the military. Instead, Eric Frein became a military re-enactor.

The gunman also never finished college, though he lied and told his parents he had graduated.

"I failed Eric as a father. I failed him by not pushing him harder," said Michael Frein, who has a doctorate in microbiology and worked in the pharmaceutical industry producing vaccines. "I lied to him, so I failed there, too."

Frein also said he shared his political views with his son, telling Eric that "government's too big" and citing a number of cases in which police had shot and killed suspects as "bad police work."

But he said he never encouraged Eric Frein to target police.

"If he had a plan to shoot or kill anybody, I would've stopped him," Michael Frein said.

Prosecutors said Michael Frein had a conversation April 14 with his son in which he told Eric, "It is not your fault. Your father is a nut job. That is going to be your defense."

Earlier Monday, Eric Frein's lawyers requested an emergency competency exam after learning from jail officials that "he would not walk, would not talk, was staring off into space and had to be brought here in a wheelchair," Weinstein told the judge. He said Frein "never responded to any of our questions or discussion" when his lawyers tried to talk to him Monday morning.

Weinstein told the judge his client had been placed under a suicide watch at the jail and was consequently monitored 24 hours a day with the lights on. He said Frein had not slept since Wednesday, denounced his treatment as "torture" and said Frein could not assist his lawyers.

Prosecutors played a recording of a phone call that Frein placed to his mother on Saturday in which he could be heard talking normally. Frein complained to his mother that Weinstein had been ineffective at the trial.

Weinstein "just completely surrendered," Frein said.

Frein also told his mother he "didn't sleep" and, apparently referring to the suicide watch, added: "Talked to the psych this morning, and nobody knows who put me on this or why and nobody knows how to get off of it."

Outside court, District Attorney Ray Tonkin said Frein's behavior Monday was a stalling tactic.

"It's our belief that he understands perfectly well what's going on," he said. "I believe he's acting."

Weinstein disagreed.

"I think Eric's at the end," he told reporters. "He's scared."

An earlier story appears below.

(Milford) -- The father of a survivalist who ambushed two Pennsylvania State Police troopers says he failed his son by not pushing him harder to grow up.

Eugene Michael Frein testified Monday during the penalty phase of his son's trial.

Eric Frein, 33, was convicted of capital murder last week in the 2014 attack that killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson II and wounded a second trooper. He faces a potential death sentence.

His father says he should have pushed Frein harder to enter the military and finish college.

The retired Army major also admitted lying to his son about his military exploits, falsely telling him he'd been a tank commander in Vietnam and a sniper when he never saw combat.

The defense says Eric Frein tried to emulate his dad but couldn't measure up.

Tagged under ,

back to top

Give Now

Estate Planning

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Smart Talk

National Edward R. Murrow Awards

DuPont Columbia Awards

Support Local Journalism

Latest News from NPR

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »