Pa. ambush suspect seeks to avoid death penalty
Eric Frein was convicted of all 12 charges he faced more than two years after targeting the state troopers in a late-night sniper attack
By Michael Rubinkam
MILFORD, Pa. — A survivalist who shot and killed a Pennsylvania State Police trooper and injured another in an ambush at their barracks will now fight for his own life following his conviction on capital murder charges.
Eric Frein, 33, was convicted Wednesday of all 12 charges he faced more than two years after targeting the state police in a late-night sniper attack.
The focus now shifts to the impact of Frein's crimes. He killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson, a 38-year-old Marine veteran who left behind a wife and two young sons, and critically wounded Trooper Alex Douglass, who was shot through both hips as he came to the aid of his mortally wounded comrade and suffers from a range of health problems.
Prosecutors will ask the same jury that convicted Frein to send him to death row, while defense lawyers will argue for a sentence of life without parole. The penalty phase begins Thursday afternoon and is expected to wrap up early next week.
Frein melted into the woods after taking four shots with a high-powered rifle, eluding capture for nearly seven weeks. Prosecutors say he opened fire on random troopers at the Blooming Grove barracks in the Pocono Mountains because he was trying to spark a revolution.
Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin called Frein a terrorist and told reporters after the guilty verdict that he intends to seek "full justice" for the victims and their families.
"This case is not yet over. We have a very serious and somber proceeding to go through," he said.
Frein was convicted of first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, attempted murder, terrorism and two weapons of mass destruction counts related to the small bombs he left in the woods during the manhunt.
The verdict was expected after prosecutors presented more than 500 pieces of evidence tying Frein to the ambush. His DNA was found on the trigger of the murder weapon, and police recovered several handwritten notebook pages at Frein's campsite in which he described the attack and his subsequent escape into the woods in chilling detail.
He also wrote a letter to his parents in which he advocated revolution as a way to "get us back the liberties we once had."
The defense said Frein deserved to live despite his "dastardly acts," as his lawyer put it.
"We would like to present Eric in the most sympathetic light that we can," said lawyer William Ruzzo. "The way they villainized him, we can't make him a holy man, but we're trying to make him a man."
He insisted Frein has an "inner core of goodness."
A death sentence would send Frein to death row, but the state has a moratorium on executions under Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. The state's last execution was in 1999, and it has executed only three people since the U.S. Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976.
Wolf applauded the verdict but didn't address Frein's sentence.
"Today justice was served and a brutal murderer will be held accountable for his heinous and cowardly acts against members of the Pennsylvania State Police," he said in a statement.
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. The dragnet shut down schools and roads and hurt businesses in the mountainous region, which leans heavily on tourism. At times, police ordered residents to stay inside or prevented them from returning home as they pursued tips and supposed sightings, while trick-or-treating was canceled.