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Jury to weigh life, death for ambush killer

Written by Michael Rubinkam/Associated Press | Apr 26, 2017 1:27 PM
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Photo by AP Photo/David Kidwell, File

In this Jan. 5, 2015, file photo, Eric Frein, left, is led from the Pike County Courthouse after his preliminary hearing in Milford, Pa. Frein is charged with fatally shooting a Pennsylvania state trooper and wounded another during an ambush at their barracks in September. A formal arraignment for Frein is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015, at the courthouse in Milford.

(Milford) -- A gunman who ambushed two Pennsylvania troopers at their barracks showed "wickedness of heart" and deserves to die, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday. The man's lawyers said he grew up in a dysfunctional home and asked for mercy.

Jurors began deliberations to decide whether Eric Frein will be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole for the sniper attack that killed 38-year-old Cpl. Bryon Dickson II, a Marine veteran and married father of two, and left a second trooper with lifelong injuries.

Frein, 33, eluded capture for 48 days before U.S. marshals arrested him at an abandoned airplane hangar. He was convicted last week of murder of a law enforcement officer, attempted murder, terrorism and other offenses. Authorities say he targeted random police officers in hopes of sparking a revolution.

The prosecution and defense delivered closing arguments in the penalty phase of the case Wednesday afternoon.

District Attorney Ray Tonkin, going first, said Frein hid in the woods across the street from the Blooming Grove barracks and "made a choice to pull that cold trigger again, again, again and again. It was the murderer's choices that brought him here."

Tonkin said Frein killed Dickson because he was a police officer, and he did it while committing other felonies, including the attempted murder of Trooper Alex Douglass, whom Frein shot through the hips as he came to the aid of his mortally wounded comrade.

The prosecutor reminded jurors that Dickson's widow and her young sons have been struggling since his murder, while Douglass, the injured trooper, suffers from a range of health problems and might lose his part of his leg to amputation.

"Full justice is sentencing this defendant to death," he declared.

Frein's attorney, Michael Weinstein, spent most of his closing argument blasting the gunman's parents.
He said the father, Mike Frein, was an angry narcissist who -- despite having served in the military for 28 years, -- lied to his family for decades about having been a Vietnam war hero.

Eric Frein idolized his father but could never measure up, Weinstein said.

"If he knew his father had lied ... maybe he could have saved himself. Maybe he could have gotten off this track," Weinstein said.

Mike Frein imparted his anti-government and anti-police views to his son, Weinstein said. Eric Frein wrote a letter to his parents while he was on the run in which he complained about lost liberties, spoke of revolution and said, "The time seems right for a spark to ignite a fire in the hearts of men."

Weinstein didn't spare Frein's mother, either. He referred to a jailhouse phone call between Deborah Frein and Eric Frein, recorded about three weeks after his capture, in which the gunman laughingly told her he wanted to sell his story to the "highest bidder."

"What kind of a mother says to her son, 'Let's plan on the money for this horrible story?' What kind of family is this?" Weinstein said.

He told jurors that if the defense evidence inspired sympathy and mercy, they could take that into consideration.

The jury must be unanimous to sentence Frein to death. Otherwise he will automatically receive a life sentence.

Even if the jury condemns him to die by lethal injection, Frein likely won't face execution for decades, if ever. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has imposed a moratorium on the death penalty, and Pennsylvania's last execution took place in 1999. The state has executed only three people since the U.S. Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976.

Police linked Frein to the ambush after a man walking his dog discovered his partly submerged SUV three days later in a swamp a few miles from the shooting scene. Inside, investigators found shell casings matching those found at the barracks and Frein's driver's license.

The discovery sparked a manhunt that involved 1,000 law enforcement officials and spanned more than 300 square miles, rattling communities throughout the Pocono Mountains.

An earlier story appears below.

(Milford) -- A prosecutor has asked jurors to give the death sentence to a man who ambushed two Pennsylvania troopers, while the gunman's lawyer is requesting mercy.

Jurors heard closing arguments Wednesday in the penalty phase of Eric Frein's trial and soon will decide his fate.

The jury convicted Frein last week of killing Cpl. Bryon Dickson II and critically wounding a second trooper in the sniper attack.

District Attorney Ray Tonkin says Frein showed a "wickedness of heart" when he targeted the troopers at their barracks in 2014.

Defense lawyer Michael Weinstein told the jurors Frein grew up in a dysfunctional household and asked them to show "sympathy and mercy" to his client and sentence him to life in prison without parole.

An earlier story appears below.

(Milford) -- A jury on Wednesday was expected to begin weighing the sentence for a gunman who targeted Pennsylvania state troopers at their barracks, killing one and leaving a second with devastating injuries.

Testimony ended in the penalty phase of Eric Frein's trial, with closing arguments scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

Eric Frein, 33, could be sentenced to death in the 2014 ambush that killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson II and wounded Trooper Alex Douglass. His lawyers are trying to keep him off death row, arguing for a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Prosecutors ended their case by playing a jailhouse phone call between Frein and his father, Mike Frein, who told his son the defense strategy would be, "It's not your fault. Your father's a nut job," according to a recording of the April 14 conversation.

The defense has been trying to show that Frein grew up with an angry, domineering and abusive father who imparted his anti-government views to his son. Lawyers hope the jury will consider Frein's relationship with Mike Frein a mitigating circumstance.

"We want the jury to know the life that Eric Frein led," defense lawyer Michael Weinstein told reporters, calling Frein the product of his environment.

Prosecutors say Frein was trying to spark a revolution when he opened fire outside the Blooming Grove barracks on Sept. 12, 2014, targeting his victims at random. He was convicted last week of murder of a law enforcement officer, terrorism and other offenses.

New York Law School professor Robert Blecker was the last prosecution witness in the penalty phase of Frein's trial. He told jurors that inmates doing life can earn substantial privileges for good behavior, spending most of their waking hours out of their cells and taking advantage of recreational and work opportunities.

An earlier story appears below.

MILFORD -- Testimony has ended in a hearing to determine whether a gunman gets the death penalty or life without parole for ambushing two Pennsylvania troopers at their barracks.

A jury is expected to begin weighing the sentence for Eric Frein after closing arguments Wednesday afternoon.

Frein killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson II and critically wounded a second trooper in a 2014 ambush.

He was convicted last week.

A law professor told jurors Wednesday that inmates doing life can earn substantial privileges for good behavior, letting them take advantage of prison recreational and work opportunities.

Prosecutors played a jailhouse phone call in which Frein's father told his son the defense strategy would be to portray him, Eric Frein's father, as a ``nut job.''

The defense says Frein should get a life sentence.

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