Frein's attorneys ask for venue change

| 04 May 2015 | 05:30

— The attorneys representing Eric Frein, the man accused of shooting two state troopers, have asked for a change of venue for his trial.

Frein's attorneys, William Ruzzo and Michael Weinstein, say campaign mailers from Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin depict Frein as a murderer, has removed "the cloak of innocence from the Defendant (and) the burden of proof from the prosecution."

Tonkin is facing a Republican primary challenge from Kelly Gaughan, who has been endorsed by the Pennsylvania State Police.

The defense attorneys are also seeking an injunction against Tonkin, to prevent him from making further statements about Frein as his campaign continues. They also cite extensive media coverage as a reason for changing the court venue.

On Monday, Tonkin said Frein's lawyers had indicated they would seek a change of venue even before the mailers were sent out.

"The political campaign mailer does not mention any facts or legal issues in the case," Tonkin said. "For them to file this at this time appears to simply be a legal stunt. The media coverage in this case been extensive nationwide."

The trial is set to take place at the Pike County Court of Common Pleas in Milford, although a date has not yet been scheduled. It could be months before a trial begins.

Weinstein and Ruzzo point to a mailer Tonkin sent to about 4,500 Republican voters in Pike County that shows Frein's bruised and battered face and tags him as a "murderer." The recipients of the mailing represent about half the county's potential jury pool, the lawyers argue.

"The word 'murderer' is used twice in the mailer and the word 'murder' is likewise used twice, a clear indication that Eric Frein is guilty of murder without being tried," say the defense attorneys in their filing.

Frein, 32, of Canadensis, Pa., is accused in the murder of Corporal Bryon K. Dickson and the attempted murder of Trooper Alex Douglass during an ambush outside the state police barracks in Blooming Grove on Sept. 12. Federal marshals took Frein into custody after finding him in an abandoned airport near Tannersville at the end of a massive manhunt that lasted seven weeks and cost $11 million. Frein made the FBI's list of 10 most wanted fugitives.

Frein faces 12 charges, including terrorism and first-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty to all charges during his arraignment in January.

Tonkin said he intends to seek the death penalty.