MILFORD, Pa. (AP) — The gunman who ambushed two state police troopers at their barracks in 2014 decided Tuesday he would not take the 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 did not 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 48-day manhunt.
Prosecutors have said Frein was trying to foment a rebellion against the government. The jury is expected to begin deliberations Wednesday on whether to sentence him to death or to life in prison without parole.
On Tuesday, Frein’s 20-year-old sister, Tiffany, cast 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, once punching her in the face seven times after she called him a vulgar name. She testified that 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 that 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 whom 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 Monday he lied to his family for years about seeing combat in Vietnam and about being a sniper.
Eric, meanwhile, was a military re-enactor 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 already proved the aggravating circumstances that would point toward a death sentence: 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,” he told reporters.
Another defense lawyer, Michael Weinstein, renewed his complaints Tuesday about Frein’s treatment at the Pike County jail. The defendant had refused to communicate with his lawyers on 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” that prevents inmates from hanging themselves, and he is kept in a cell with the lights on around the clock.
He said it is jail policy to place defendants like Frein under a suicide watch even though Frein has never expressed any intention to kill himself.
Prosecutors had called Frein a malingerer. Ruzzo said Tuesday: “It seems he’s getting a little better.”
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