MILFORD, Pa. (AP) — His fate hanging in the balance, a gunman who ambushed two state police troopers at their barracks in 2014 decided Tuesday he would not take the witness stand to try to persuade jurors to spare his life.
The defense rested its case after Eric Frein opted not to testify in the penalty phase of his capital murder trial. His lawyers said outside court they didn’t want to expose Frein to cross-examination, fearing he might try to “rationalize” the deadly ambush.
Frein, 33, was convicted last week of killing Cpl. Bryon Dickson II and critically wounding Trooper Alex Douglass in an unprovoked, random sniper attack at the Blooming Grove barracks. He was captured after a seven-week manhunt that dominated news coverage and rattled communities throughout the Pocono Mountains.
The jury is expected to begin deliberations Wednesday on whether to sentence Frein to death or to life in prison without parole.
The defense made a last-ditch effort to keep him off death row, with his 20-year-old sister casting him as a protective older brother.
Tiffany Frein, who was adopted into the family when she was 4, described a highly dysfunctional household. She said her father, Eugene Michael “Mike” Frein, physically abused her, punching her in the face repeatedly after she called him a vulgar name. She testified her mother was a selfish manipulator.
Her brother stood up for her, she said.
“He made me feel like someone actually loved me,” Tiffany Frein said.
Frein’s half-sister, Ellen Mitchell, testified Mike Frein used to place late-night, drunken calls to her and raged about “wanting to kill people.”
“I didn’t have time to deal with my father’s crazy,” she said.
Mike Frein, who earned a doctorate and worked on vaccines, previously acknowledged to the jury he had a drinking problem more than a decade ago.
The defense, trying to prove a mitigating circumstance the jury could weigh in its deliberations, has sought to portray Mike Frein as a domineering, angry but highly accomplished figure Eric Frein looked up to and tried to emulate.
Mike Frein, who logged 28 years in the military and retired as a major, admitted to jurors that he lied to his family for years that he saw combat in Vietnam and was a sniper.
Eric Frein, meanwhile, was a military reenactor and college dropout who lived with his parents into his 30s.
Mike Frein also told the jury he had shared his political views with his son, calling the government too big and railing against abusive police. His son, in a letter he wrote to his parents while on the run, advocated revolution as a way to restore lost liberties.
The prosecution has proved the aggravating circumstances that would point toward a death sentence: Eric Frein killed a law enforcement officer, and the jury concluded it was a terrorist act.
Frein’s decision to avoid the witness stand seemed to come as a relief to one of his lawyers, Bill Ruzzo.
“Defendants typically rationalize, and we were afraid that might happen,” Ruzzo told reporters.
But the defense effort to make Frein more sympathetic to the jury was undermined by a 2014 jailhouse recording, played by prosecutors, in which he’s heard joking that he planned to sell his story.
Three weeks after his arrest, Frein told his mother reporters had been asking him for an interview. He laughingly said he would wait until after trial and give to the highest bidder.
Frein was being “hounded” by media at the time, said defense lawyer Michael Weinstein, who characterized the comments as off the cuff.
Weinstein renewed his complaints Tuesday about Frein’s treatment in jail. The defendant had refused to communicate with his lawyers Monday and looked unsteady on his feet as he was helped into the courtroom by two sheriff’s deputies. Weinstein had asked the judge to order a mental competency exam but was turned down after prosecutors played a jailhouse phone call recorded Saturday in which Frein could be heard talking normally.
Weinstein said Frein has been forced since the guilty verdict to wear a heavy suicide smock, which prevents inmates from hanging themselves, and is kept in a cell with the lights always on even though Frein has never expressed any intention to kill himself.
Even if the jury sends Frein to death row, the sentence won’t be carried out anytime soon, if ever. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has imposed a moratorium on executions.
Pennsylvania has executed only three people since the Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976, none since 1999.
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