MILFORD, Pa. (AP) — The father of a survivalist who ambushed two state police troopers, killing one of them, said Monday that he failed his son by lying about his military exploits and by not pushing him harder to grow up.
Eugene “Michael” Frein, 67, testified during the penalty phase of his son’s capital murder trial. He apologized to Eric Frein and added: “I do love him or I wouldn’t be here.”
Eric Frein, 33, was convicted of capital murder last week in the 2014 attack that killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson II and wounded a second trooper. He faces a potential death sentence.
His father’s appearance on the witness stand came hours after Frein showed up in court disheveled and unsteady on his feet. His lawyers said he was refusing to communicate with them and asked the judge for a mental competency exam. Prosecutors accused Frein of malingering, and the judge refused the defense request.
Frein’s lawyers are working to spare their client’s life in part by blaming his father.
Michael Frein told jurors he spent 28 years in the military — retiring as an Army major — but lied to Eric by claiming he’d been wounded in Vietnam, when in reality he never saw combat. He said he also falsely claimed to have been a sniper.
Eric Frein grew up hearing “false stories of a hero” and sought to emulate his father, defense lawyer Michael Weinstein said.
Michael Frein told the jury he thought his son would join the military. Instead, Eric Frein became a military re-enactor.
The gunman also never finished college, though he lied and told his parents he had graduated.
“I failed Eric as a father. I failed him by not pushing him harder,” said Michael Frein, who has a doctorate in microbiology and worked in the pharmaceutical industry producing vaccines. “I lied to him, so I failed there, too.”
Frein also said he shared his political views with his son, telling Eric that “government’s too big” and citing a number of cases in which police had shot and killed suspects as “bad police work.”
But he said he never encouraged Eric Frein to target police.
“If he had a plan to shoot or kill anybody, I would’ve stopped him,” Michael Frein said.
Prosecutors said Michael Frein had a conversation April 14 with his son in which he told Eric, “It is not your fault. Your father is a nut job. That is going to be your defense.”
Earlier Monday, Eric Frein’s lawyers requested an emergency competency exam after learning from jail officials that “he would not walk, would not talk, was staring off into space and had to be brought here in a wheelchair,” Weinstein told the judge. He said Frein “never responded to any of our questions or discussion” when his lawyers tried to talk to him Monday morning.
Weinstein told the judge his client had been placed under a suicide watch at the jail and was consequently monitored 24 hours a day with the lights on. He said Frein had not slept since Wednesday, denounced his treatment as “torture” and said Frein could not assist his lawyers.
Prosecutors played a recording of a phone call that Frein placed to his mother on Saturday in which he could be heard talking normally. Frein complained to his mother that Weinstein had been ineffective at the trial.
Weinstein “just completely surrendered,” Frein said.
Frein also told his mother he “didn’t sleep” and, apparently referring to the suicide watch, added: “Talked to the psych this morning, and nobody knows who put me on this or why and nobody knows how to get off of it.”
Outside court, District Attorney Ray Tonkin said Frein’s behavior Monday was a stalling tactic.
“It’s our belief that he understands perfectly well what’s going on,” he said. “I believe he’s acting.”
“I think Eric’s at the end,” he told reporters. “He’s scared.”
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