Jury says death for trooper killer Eric Frein

| 27 Apr 2017 | 10:19

By Marilyn Rosenthal
— Eric Matthew Frein was sentenced to death at 10:10 p.m. Wednesday.
A bell will toll from the courthouse if the verdict is death, the judge said earlier that day. The jury was dismissed at 5:10 p.m. to start its deliberations: will it be death by lethal injection or life in prison without parole? The jury found Frein guilty of all 12 counts against him, including the first-degree murder of Cpl. Bryon Dickson II, the attempted murder and maiming of Trooper Alex Douglass, and terrorism.
Judge Gregory Chelak wanted to send the jury home at 9 p.m. But then the tipstaff told the court they didn't want to leave.
Chelak gave the jury specific instructions: the sentence of death would need to be unanimous with at least one aggravating circumstance and no mitigating circumstances, or more aggravating circumstances than mitigating circumstance.
If the jury was unable to make a decision, it would have gone back to the judge, who would by law have to declare a verdict of life without parole.
Expert: Lifers play beach volleyballEarlier on Wednesday, on what would be the last day of the trial before Thursday's sentencing hearing, the gallery in the Pike County Courtroom was packed. On the right side of the court, facing the judge, Dickson's friends and family were in their customary place, huddled together and chattering, excitedly anticpating a celebration.
The left side was quiet. It included some curious Milford residents and members of the isolated Frein family.
The prosecution called its final rebuttal witness, Robert Blecker, a criminal law professor at New York University and a known retributionist — eye for an eye — death penalty advocate.
Blecker contradicted the testimony of Dr. Robert Johnson, the defense's expert witness, who said life sentences make prisoners compliant. Blecker said lifers have it easy: playing chess, roaming out of their cells at will, playing baseball, playing bocce, playing beach volleyball, and buying sunscreen for lying on the beach.
Defense Attorney Michael Weinstein accused Blecker of making huge generalizations "almost uniformly." He asked how many of the baseball-playing, sun-bathing inmates were actually lifers.
District Attorney Ray Tonkin began his closing arguments dramatically.
"On September 12, Tiffany Dickson had just finished tucking young Bryon and Adam into bed," he said. "Darla Dickson was working on project. At the same time the murderer — and he's sitting right over there — sat in the woods with wickedness of heart, a plan in his mind, and his finger on that cold trigger — again, again, again, and again," reminding the jury of the four gunshots Cpl. Dickson sustained.
Tonkin tore at the credibility of the witnesses for the defense. For example, he cast doubt on the claim of Tiffany Frein, Eric Frein's sister, that their father hit her in the face seven times.
"Where was the 911 report?" Tonkin asked. "Where was the police report?"
The district attorney continued this line for every witness who testified for the defense. He ended with a photograph of Tiffany Dickson, Cpl. Dickson's widow, with her arms around her two children, a trooper jacket, boots, and hat beside them and the words "FULL JUSTICE" on the sides of the photo.
"We ask you today to deliver full justice in sentencing this defendant to death," he concluded.
Defense: Family forged by hateDefense Attorney Weinstein began his closing remarks with "a story of two families: one family formed and forged on love, laughter, and service — a family that was committed to a solid upbringing, fun, and serving their country. No one can fault that family or Bryon Dickson."
Weinstein continued.
"Another family, the Frein family, was formed and forged on lies and anger, and, to some extent, on hatred," he said.
"The Frein family was started on a lie, a lie that took on a life of its own," he said, referring to the false story that Frein's father, Michael Frein, told his family and everyone else that he did three tours of Vietnam, that he was a sniper, that he was a hero.
He said Michael Frein's anger and violent nature affected his family.
"Eric wasn't born to shoot anyone," Weinstein. "He was just born. He stuttered, he couldn't read until the sixth grade, the family was belittled and ostracized."
The said the decision at hand is not guilt or innocence.
"We're here to decide life or death," he said. "The judge will instruct you that mercy and sympathy are valid considerations. I'm asking you to spare Eric Frein's life."