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Judge allows confession in deadly trooper barracks ambush

FILE - In this Jan. 5, 2015, file photo, Eric Frein is led away by Pennsylvania State Police Troopers at the Pike County Courthouse after his preliminary hearing in Milford, Pa. Attorneys for Frein, charged in the 2014 ambush slaying of Pennsylvania Police Cpl. Bryon Dickson II, are asking a judge on the eve of his trial to throw out his videotaped confession. (Butch Comegys/The Times & Tribune via AP, File)

MILFORD, Pa. (AP) — Prosecutors scored a significant victory Monday in their quest to convict a man charged in the 2014 ambush slaying of a state police trooper, winning the right to use his videotaped confession at trial.

A judge ruled against Eric Frein, whose lawyer argued he clearly invoked his right to remain silent before going on to incriminate himself “dozens of times” in a police interview after his arrest.

Defense attorney William Ruzzo had asked Pike County Judge Gregory Chelak to throw out the confession. But the judge said Frein’s assertion he didn’t want to “answer questions about crimes” was sufficiently ambiguous to allow police to continue interrogating him.

Frein, 33, could face a death sentence if he’s convicted in the late-night attack in the Pocono Mountains that killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson II and injured Trooper Alex Douglass. He led police on a 48-day manhunt that rattled communities throughout the Poconos before his capture by U.S. marshals.

Opening statements in the trial are scheduled to begin Tuesday.

The video of the police interview, conducted at the barracks where Frein is accused of opening fire, showed Cpl. Michael Clark reading Frein his rights. Frein told police he didn’t want to talk about crimes but would provide information about the location of a rifle he’d buried in the woods.

Clark and Trooper Michael Mulvey quickly developed a rapport with the former fugitive, who had been among the FBI’s most wanted, offering him a cigarette, which he accepted, and praising his parents.

“You know that you’re famous? You’re a national figure,” Clark told him, according to a portion of the lengthy interview that was played in court Monday.

The troopers urged him to tell his story because, as Mulvey said, “the world wants to know.”

Frein went on to call Dickson’s slaying an assassination and said he did it to “wake people up” and make a change in government, according to court documents.

Rizzo said, “They violated his rights. They did it very skillfully, and they got what they came in to get.”

In court Monday, Tonkin argued “there is a balancing interest at stake” between a police officer’s obligation to collect evidence and a defendant’s obligation to be clear about whether he wants to answer questions. The prosecutor said Frein opened the door to further questioning by engaging in a discussion about the slain trooper’s children.

The defense also argued the confession should be suppressed because police blocked an attorney hired by Frein’s parents from seeing him. But the judge ruled Frein did not request to speak to the attorney. The judge also said the troopers who were interviewing Frein were not made aware the attorney had asked to visit the suspect.

Authorities have said they have a wealth of physical evidence tying Frein to the crime, including spent shell casings in his SUV matching those found at the crime scene.

Police also said they recovered a journal written by Frein in which the gunman describes how he opened fire on two state troopers, watching one of his victims fall “still and quiet,” and then made his escape.

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