Video shows Frein tearing up at mention of fallen trooper's children

Judge agrees to use of video: Defense accuses police interrogator of 'gamesmanship'

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

  • Eric Frein

By Marilyn Rosenthal

— Two troopers loomed over Eric Frein, who looked frail as they removed his handcuffs and seated him next to his defense attorneys.

Frein, 33, is accused of first-degree murder, attempted murder, and terrorism, among other charges in connection with a shooting ambush at the state police barracks in Blooming Grove in 2014. At the Pike County Courthouse on Monday, both the defense and the prosecution appeared before Judge Gregory H. Chelak in a preliminary hearing. Frein's capital murder trial begins today.

The video screened at the hearing shows Frein being interviewed by Cpl. Benjamin Clark immediately after he was apprehended in late October 2014, after a monthlong manhunt in the woods of Pike and Monroe counties. Clark reads Frein his Miranda Rights. Frein then asks to read the copy himself, and refuses to sign any waiver of his rights.

Clark tries to befriend Frein to get him to talk. He offers Frein a cigarette and a sandwich.

"You are the champion of hide-and-seek," Clark tells Frein. "You are a national figure. You're famous. You feel terrible, right?"

When Frein learns that Cpl. Bryon Dickson II had two small children, he starts to tear up. Dickson died as a result of his injuries.

Another trooper, Alex T. Douglass, was critically injured during the ambush but survived.

Defense attorney William Ruzzo noted Clark's skill in trying to get Frein to incriminate himself.

"This is gamesmanship at its height," Ruzzo said at the hearing.

At one point in the video, Clark asks Frein about the location of some guns in a car, not the guns Frein allegedly used. Frein agreed to talk about the guns because of the public safety issue, but said he did not want to talk about any crime that may have been committed.

This statement is "an unequivocal expression of Frein's right to silence," said Ruzzo.

Pike County District Ray Tonkin said that because Frein was willing to talk about the location of the guns, that willingness should pertain to his talking about the crimes as well.

A further issue at the hearing was whether Frein was denied counsel. Attorney James Swetz, hired by Michael Frein, Eric's father, was asked to meet with Eric immediately after he was taken into custody and to assess his condition, his right to silence, and to counsel. But Swetz was prevented from seeing Eric at the barracks. Tonkin argued that Swetz was not Eric's lawyer because he was hired by Eric's family and not Eric himself.

Judge Chelak denied the defense team's request to suppress the video, which shows what defense attorneys say is a coerced confession and whether Frein was denied his right to silence and to counsel. After reviewing the video, "the Court specifically finds that the Defendant did not make an unambiguous or unequivocal assertion of his right to remain silent," the decision states. The video furthermore "fails to establish any request of the Defendant himself to retain or speak with Swetz."

This article was updated from the original to include the court's decision on the use of video.

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