Lawyers for a survivalist cop-killer will attempt to save their client’s life Monday when they try to persuade the same jury that convicted Eric Frein of first-degree murder that he should not be put to death.
Frein, 33, was also convicted of almost a dozen other counts last week for the September 2014 ambush at a Pennsylvania State Police barracks that killed one officer, wounded another and brought weeks of fear to a string of tiny communities in a vast, rugged expanse of the Pocono Mountains.
More than 1,000 police officers searched miles of dense woods for seven weeks before a weary Frein was apprehended by U.S. Marshals at a small, abandoned airport about 35 miles from the shooting scene.
Defense lawyers put up little resistance at the trial, acknowledging the evidence overwhelmingly pointed to Frein. Now they will lobby jurors to determine that life in prison would be sufficient punishment for his crimes.
“We have been preparing for it for over two years,” Ruzzo said. “We are hoping to save Mr. Frein’s life.”
Ruzzo says the issue is whether Frein will one day die a natural death in prison or on a gurney.
Prosecutors are pressing for a death sentence. Their witnesses included the mother and widow of Cpl. Byron Dickson, 38, a father of two young children. They spoke of how important Dickson was to his family and how deeply he is missed.
Ruzzo told the jury his client was a college dropout who played video games incessantly and worshiped his father, a retired Army major with a Ph.D. in microbiology.
In a letter Frein wrote to his parents while on the run, Frein said he did not have a death wish but hoped to serve as a catalyst for a revolution.
“There is so much wrong and on so many levels only passing through the crucible of another revolution can get us back the liberties we once had,” said the letter, which was found on Frein’s computer.
Frein, using a .308-caliber rifle, shot Dickson as he walked to his car at the end of his shift. Frein wounded Trooper Alex Douglass and fired at a civilian dispatcher as she tried to aid the victims, police said. Frein fired four shots over about a minute and a half, then vanished into the woods.
The barracks, about 35 miles east of Scranton, not far from the borders of New York and New Jersey, sits on the edge of thousands of acres of state woodland. Frein shed gear as the manhunt dragged on, and searchers found rifle cases, military gear, flashlights, an AK-47-style weapon and ammunition.
Police also found an Army manual titled “Sniper Training and Employment” in the suspect’s bedroom at his parents’ home.
Trackers also discovered a journal — allegedly kept by Frein and found in a bag of trash at a hastily abandoned campsite — that offered a chilling account of the ambush and escape. The journal’s author described Dickson as falling “still and quiet” after being shot twice, the last time in the head.
Frein wrote that he didn’t think the massive manhunt could last forever. But he also knew he might be caught, an acknowledgement he made in the letter to his parents.
“I tried my best to do this thing without getting identified, but if you are reading this then I was not successful,” he wrote.