Trial begins for Frein, accused of Pa. trooper shootings, setting off historic manhunt

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MILFORD, Pa. — Two and a half years after he became one of the FBI’s most-wanted fugitives and hid in the Poconos woods during a massive 48-day manhunt, on of the largest in the nation’s history, Eric Frein is going to trial.

And his life hangs in the balance.

Frein, 33, could face the death penalty for killing one state trooper and wounding a second in an ambush attack at the state police barracks in Blooming Grove, Pike County.

A jury from Chester County will begin hearing the case against him Tuesday as lawyers are scheduled to make opening arguments.

Frein, 33, is charged with first-degree murder, terrorism, and other crimes for the death of Cpl. Bryon Dickson and shooting of Trooper Alex Douglass in September 2014.

The trial is expected to last as long as five weeks and draw attention to the small town of Milford and its historic courthouse, just as the 48-day search for him brought national attention to the Poconos region.

More than 1,000 law enforcement officers descended upon rural areas of Pike and Monroe counties to search for Frein, whom they said was a self-styled survivalist and skilled sniper who wanted to kill more police officers and could have hidden explosives in the woods.

The search disrupted everyday life, closed roads and schools, and attracted national media attention.

After 48 days on the run, Frein was captured as he was walking unarmed  on a runway next to an abandoned airplane hangar.

Judge Gregory Chelak ruled Monday afternoon that District Attorney Ray Tonkin can show jurors a video recording of Frein’s alleged confession. Frein’s lawyers had asked the judge to throw out the video, because Frein had not consulted with a lawyer and told police as they questioned him that he did not want to talk about the shooting.

In the video, portions of which were played at a pre-trial hearing Monday, Frein, a Monroe County resident, said the shooting was intended “to wake people up.”

Authorities insist he agreed to cooperate with the interview, and that he was read his rights. 

They also talked to him about his parents and the media coverage of the manhunt.

“You know that you’re famous? You’re a national figure,” a state police corporal told him in the videotaped interview.

Frein’s lawyers, Michael Weinstein and William Ruzzo, have said they are fighting to save Frein’s life. They have not offered insight into their arguments, although a judge has barred them from presenting an insanity defense.

Other key evidence at trial will include a journal entry that police found in the woods with other items they said matched Frein’s DNA. The journal pages provide a chilling account of the deadly ambush at the state police barracks.

Prosecutors are also expected to use as evidence surveillance video footage of the deadly attack, as well as a letter that Frein wrote to his parents, found on his computer after he was captured. In the letter, Frein wrote that “only passing through the crucible of another revolution can get us back the liberties we once had.” It formed the basis for the terrorism charge against him.

If Frein is convicted, the trial will move into a penalty phase during which jurors consider whether to sentence him to death or life in prison. The jury will remain sequestered in Milford during the trial, and will be permitted to return home to Chester County on weekends.

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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