Life or death? Eric Frein’s fate now in the hands of a jury

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Milford, Pa. – The fate of Eric Frein, convicted of murdering a state trooper and wounding another in an ambush attack, is now in the hands of jurors who must determine whether he should be sentenced to death or life in prison.

In closing arguments Wednesday afternoon in a packed Pike County courtroom, prosecutors described Frein as a cold-blooded killer who escaped into the woods for 48 days after the 2014 shootings, armed and ready for battle.

“He’s a murderer,” District Attorney Ray Tonkin argued during his closing statement in the four-week, high-profile trial. “The murderer sat in the woods with the wickedness of heart, his plan in his mind, and his finger on that cold trigger.”

Frein’s lawyers urged a jury to show mercy and spare his life by recommending life in prison. Frein was raised by an alcoholic and abusive father who regaled him with fabricated stories of being a sniper and war hero in Vietnam, ranted against police and government, and even drunkenly spoke of a desire to kill people, lawyer Michael Weinstein said.

“This didn’t happen in a vacuum,” Tonkin said. “This is the tenor and climate of this house.”

A group of jurors from Chester County who have been sequestered in Milford for five days a week during the trial, which began April 5.

They convicted Frein last week of all the charges against him, including murder and terrorism, for killing Cpl. Bryon Dickson and wounding Trooper Alex Douglass during the deadly attack at the state police barracks in Blooming Grove in September 2014. He then became the subject of one of the largest manhunts in the nation’s history, drawing more than 1,000 law enforcement officers to scour the Pocono woods in Pike and Monroe Counties.

In the trial’s penalty phase, Frein’s parents and sisters testified about family dysfunction, abuse, and Frein’s struggle with learning disabilities and making friends. Frein simply wanted to be like his narcissistic father, Weinstein told jurors Wednesday.

“The Frein family was formed and forged on lies, by anger, and, to a great extent, hatred,” Weinstein told jurors.

Tonkin, however, portrayed the testimony from Frein’s family and friends as rehearsed and uncorroborated. He said a death penalty would be the only way to deliver full justice to the victims in the case, especially Dickson’s family.

Dickson was headed home from work to fix his young son’s iPad the night he was killed, Tonkin said, and his widow and two sons are still struggling to cope with his death.

Tonkin ended his arguments by displaying a photo of Dickson’s widow and sons, posing with his state police jacket, boots, and hat.

“Full justice is deserved in this case,” he said. “Absolute, full justice.”

Although the death penalty still exists under Pennsylvania law, it was last used in 1999, and Gov. Wolf placed a moratorium on executions in 2015.

Jurors are expected to begin deliberating Frein’s fate Wednesday evening.

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