A judge on Monday ordered a survivalist who called for revolution to stand trial on charges he fatally shot a Pennsylvania state trooper and wounded another outside their barracks, a case his attorneys acknowledge will be difficult to defend.
The ruling came after a preliminary hearing for Eric Frein, 31, who is charged with first-degree murder and related offenses in the Sept. 12 ambush that killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson and critically wounded Trooper Alex Douglass.
Investigators testified that they found the murder weapon along with a journal in which Frein described shooting the troopers.
After the hearing, a defense lawyer, Bill Ruzzo, said his primary goal is to save Frein’s life. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
“It’s a battle,” said another defense attorney, Michael Weinstein, adding that Frein “understands his circumstances.”
In court, Pike County prosecutors showed surveillance video of Dickson crumpling to the ground after being shot, followed by Douglass, who had knelt beside his mortally wounded comrade. Douglass then crawled into the lobby of the Blooming Grove barracks on his stomach — his legs immobilized by the gunfire — where a trooper dragged him through a doorway and out of sight.
After the ambush, Frein led authorities on a 48-day manhunt through the heavily wooded Pocono Mountains before U.S. marshals captured him at an abandoned airplane hangar.
A trooper testified Monday that bullets from the shooting scene were fired from Frein’s rifle, which was recovered at the hangar.
Frein, who was shackled by his hands and feet, sat quiet and still throughout the day in a cavernous courtroom packed with media and other spectators. At one point, he wrote a note and whispered into an attorney’s ear.
Authorities say Frein confessed to what he described as an assassination designed to “wake people up.” They say he also wrote a letter to his parents — the text of which was read in court Monday — calling for revolution to “get us back the liberties we once had.”
“I do not have a death wish but I know the odds. I tried my best to do this thing without getting identified, but if you are reading this then I was not successful,” said the letter, found on a computer storage drive that prosecutors say Frein had with him while he was on the run.
Frein was identified as a suspect a few days after the ambush when a pedestrian found his vehicle partially submerged in a small pond near the barracks.
The manhunt for Frein, an expert marksman and avid military re-enactor, drew hundreds of law enforcement officers to the rural area. A team of marshals stumbled across him about 24 miles from the shooting scene and arrested him without incident.
Trooper Sean Doran, an evidence technician, testified that he found Frein’s checkbook and two explosive devices in a backpack at a campsite. Troopers also found three crumpled, wet pieces of notebook paper in a garbage bag at the campsite that authorities say bore Frein’s handwriting and described the ambush in detail.
“Got a shot around 11 p.m. and took it,” one entry said. “He was still and quiet.”
John Schaaf, a deputy with the U.S. Marshals Service, described how he and two other deputies found Frein at the abandoned airfield on Oct. 30 and took him into custody. He said another marshal first spotted Frein, ordered him to put his hands up and asked him his name.
Frein got onto his knees and told them who he was. Schaaf said he handcuffed Frein and searched him, finding a pocketknife but no other weapons. He said he also spotted a green nylon cord attached to “different metal devices.”
“I immediately thought he had explosives on him,” Schaaf said. But it turned out to be Frein’s suspenders.
He said Frein asked him, “Can I tell you where the guns are in the hangar?” adding, “I don’t want a kid to find the guns.” He said two rifles were upstairs in the hangar — including one identified as the murder weapon — and a loaded pistol was downstairs.
Frein was shackled with Dickson’s handcuffs and driven to the police station in Dickson’s squad car.
Dickson’s widow attended the hearing.
SOURCE: MICHAEL RUBINKAM