Closings are set at Frein trial

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MILFORD, Pa. – Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday against an antigovernment survivalist charged with ambushing two troopers at a Pennsylvania State Police barracks, having presented more than 500 exhibits that helped tie him to the deadly late-night attack.

Lawyers for Eric Frein acknowledged that prosecutors had built a compelling case against their client. Lawyers Michael Weinstein and William Ruzzo rested after calling no witnesses and presenting no evidence.

Closing arguments were scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin is seeking the death penalty against Frein, 33, who allegedly opened fire from a wooded area across the street from the Blooming Grove barracks in Northeastern Pennsylvania on Sept. 12, 2014.

Cpl. Bryon Dickson II, a married father of two, died in the ambush. A second trooper, Alex Douglass, was shot as he tried to help Dickson and was left with debilitating injuries.

Prosecutors wrapped up their case by showing autopsy photos to the jury, as well as the bulletproof vest that Dickson was wearing when he was shot with a sniper’s rifle. A warning label inside the vest said it is not intended to protect against rifle fire.

A pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Dickson told the jury that either of the bullets that struck him would have been fatal.

Frein eluded capture for nearly seven weeks before U.S. marshals found him outside an abandoned airplane hangar more than 20 miles from the shooting scene. He wrote a letter to his parents while on the run in which he talked about sparking a revolution.

For more than two weeks, news cameras have been stationed on the lawn in front of the courthouse at Broad and High Streets, where there normally aren’t incidents gaining national news media attention.

Some residents have sat in on some of the trial, sharing the courtroom with police personnel who have been showing support for the Dickson family and Douglass.

Also present have been Frein’s parents and sister.

Frein is charged with first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, terrorism, and related crimes.

In a trial where the prosecution is seeking the death penalty if the accused is convicted of first-degree murder, the first phase involves the jury determining whether to convict the defendant of this offense.

If there’s a conviction, the trial proceeds to the penalty phase, where the jury decides whether to sentence the convicted to death or life in prison without parole.

While the prosecution in Frein’s case has presented a mountain of evidence against him in the trial’s first phase, Frein’s attorneys, on the other hand, cross-examined only a few of the prosecution’s 53 witnesses.

The defense’s goal appears to focus more on presenting mitigating factors to the jury, which will occur if there’s a penalty phase. Mitigating factors are information about the defendant’s personal life history, such as community volunteerism, lack of a prior criminal record, or a childhood of suffering abuse, that earn the jury’s sympathy.

Meant to do the opposite are aggravating factors, such as a history of violence or lack of cooperation with law enforcement, presented by the prosecution.

After the conclusion of testimony and evidence Tuesday, Weinstein and Ruzzo told news reporters the prosecution has done “an excellent job” in presenting “a well-organized, persuasive case.”

Tonkin in a half-joking response said, “Let’s see if the defense says this to the jury [during closing arguments before deliberation]. That’s when it counts.”

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