Philadelphia News & Search
Milford, Pa. – Before she saw him on the news one morning in September 2014, Ellen Mitchell had not been in touch with her half-brother Eric Frein for years.
She had heard from their father, however, because he used to call her when he was drunk.
“He would be drunk, and he would talk about wanting to kill people,” Mitchell said. “He had a rage inside of him and he wanted to kill people.”
Mitchell testified Tuesday during the penalty phase of Frein’s trial as defense lawyers sought to convince a jury that the influence Frein’s father had on him is a mitigating factor that he should be sentenced to life in prison rather than death.
Frein was convicted last week of murder, terrorism, and other crimes for killing Cpl. Bryon Dickson and wounding Trooper Alex Douglass in his deadly ambush on the state police barracks in Blooming Grove, prompting a 48-day manhunt in the Poconos in 2014.
Following a day of testimony from Frein’s parents, testimony from Mitchell and Frein’s adopted younger sister, Tiffany, portrayed the Frein family as dysfunctional, and the father as abusive and alcoholic.
Tiffany Frein, 20, said Eugene “Michael” and Debbie Frein adopted her when she was 4. Her parents were not loving toward her, she said, and her father physically abused her.
Once he dragged her by her hair and forced her to crawl to her bedroom, she said. Another time, he punched her in the face seven times.
Her older brother Eric, however, stood up to his parents on her behalf.
“He was my big brother, he was somebody that I looked up to,” she said. ‘He was my protector.”
Tiffany Frein testified tearfully about her childhood with an “angry, very self-centered” father and “selfish” mother. Her brother Eric is her only real family member, she said. Michael and Debbie Frein were not present in the courtroom Tuesday morning.
“I love you,” Tiffany Frein whispered to her brother before leaving the courtroom after testifying.
Frein’s lawyers rested their case Tuesday morning. Prosecutors will present more evidence Tuesday afternoon in an effort to persuade the jurors from Chester County to sentence Frein to death.
Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin told reporters outside the courthouse that his evidence would diminish the defense narrative that Frein was influenced by his argumentative and alcoholic father’s views about police and government. He has suggested in court this week that the defense strategy in the case was concocted to help Frein.
Defense lawyer Bill Ruzzo said Frein, himself, has been troubled because “he thinks the case is over” now that he has been convicted. He appeared more alert in court Tuesday than on Monday, when he lawyers said he would not talk to them, hadn’t slept, and was on suicide watch.
Although only three Pennsylvania inmates have been executed since 1978 and Gov. Wolf placed a moratorium on executions in 2015, Ruzzo said he is not confident that Frein would stay alive if sentenced to death.
“The Trump voters are not exactly liberal,” he said. “The next governor may be Republican and try to get death row fired up again.”
Philadelphia News & Search