Frein prosecutor makes moving and frightening opening statement

The defense keeps it short: 'There is no question about this tragedy'

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  • Media from New York, Allentown, and Philadelphia converged on the county courthouse in Milford on Tuesday (Photo by Marilyn Rosenthal)

  • Media at the Pike County Courthouse at the Eric Frein trial begins (Photo by Marilyn Rosenthal)

By Marilyn Rosenthal

— There was a formality and electricity in the air on the first day of the Eric Frein capital murder trial.

Frein was clean shaven and dressed in a suit jacket and tie. He looked like a far different person than the one, with abrasions and a beard, continually published since his arrest. Troopers sat him next to his attorneys and removed his handcuffs. He is accused of murdering one trooper and critically injuring another in a shooting ambush at the Blooming Grove state police barracks in September 2014.

The gallery of the courtroom was filled with media mostly from New York, Allentown, and Philadelphia. Also in the courtroom were family of the slain trooper, Cpl. Byron Dickson II, and Frein's family. The trial is open to the public, so other interested parties were there along with police officers and staff from Blooming Grove barracks.

Members of the jury were let in. Their demeanor was somber.

Judge Gregory H. Chelak opened the proceedings with "an information," a formal criminal charge that begins a criminal proceeding in a court trial. The judge said the defendant has no obligation to testify, that the judge decides all questions of law, and that the jurors are the sole judges of facts. Facts, said Chelak, are not necessarily the words that the attorneys say. Jurors must evaluate the evidence and then apply the rules of law, as dictated by the judge.

He cautioned the jury to observe the demeanor of the witnesses and avoid deciding guilt or innocence until the end of the trial. He said the verdict must be unanimous.

Opening statement of the prosecutionA breathtaking video presentation by Bruce DeSarro, Chief Assistant District Attorney and co-counsel, detailed the entire crime. Parts of the presentation were really moving and truly frightening. The jury, however, remained stone-faced.

DeSarro mentioned at least five times that Dickson was a Marine, and that he had served his country in Iraq and his commonwealth.

"As he lay dying, he saw the flags of each of these outside the barracks," DeSarro said

DeSarro continued for one hour and 40 minutes detailing each of the shots that night. He showed pictures of the getaway jeep Frein drove and the guns left in the jeep, which was found stuck in a nearby pond. There was an AK47 rifle near the jeep and two clips of ammunition. The jeep was registered to Frein's parents, but his picture and license was left in the jeep.

The police then went to Frein's home in Monroe County, where they found several incriminating articles, namely:

Guns, military gear, a sniper training manual, black powder, and bomb materials

A packing list including maps, computers, rifles, ammunition, and two bombs

A to-do list including cleaning guns and re-sighting rifles.

DeSarro showed pictures of Frein's campsite when he was hiding out. An FBI SWAT team tracked him down and found many of the elements at the campsite that were in Frein's room, including a radio, socks, a headlamp, notes, books, bombs, and trip wire from the same spools in his bedroom.

In addition, it shows a letter Frein wrote his parents, should he not be found alive, saying, "Our nation is far from what it is and what it should be....I know the odds."

The video showed the abandoned airport hanger where Frein was found and arrested, approximately 20 miles from the Blooming Grove barracks where the September 2014 ambush took place.

Frein made the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list during the monthlong manhunt for him. DeSarro said there exists forensic evidence, ballistics evidence, handwriting analysis, paper composition analysis, fingerprints, and DNA evidence.

Opening statement of the defenseDefense attorney Michael Weinstein was up next, and his statement was very short.

"A very good man was killed while just doing his job," he told the jury. "There is no question about this tragedy. I don't know if our county will ever recover. You just heard a very moving opening statement, but know that each one of you wears a robe and makes a judgment about what happened that day. The defendant wears the cloak of innocence until proven guilty. Eric Frein will not testify, but you must evaluate what you will see in the four-hour video of his testimony. What the prosecution will label as self-serving, we will label as candid. You must decide on the facts for yourself."
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