MILFORD, Pa. (AP) — A judge on Monday denied a request for an emergency competency hearing after a survivalist convicted of ambushing two Pennsylvania State Police troopers refused to communicate with his lawyers during the penalty phase of his capital murder trial.
Eric Frein’s lawyers made the request after learning from jail officials that “he would not walk, would not talk, was staring off into space and had to be brought here in a wheelchair,” defense attorney Michael Weinstein told the judge.
He said Frein “never responded to any of our questions or discussion” when his lawyers tried to talk to him at the courthouse Monday morning.
The district attorney accused Frein of faking it, and Pike County Judge Gregory Chelak denied the request. The defense was to continue putting on its case at the penalty phase of Frein’s trial later Monday.
Frein, 33, was convicted of capital murder last week in the 2014 attack that killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson II and injured a second trooper. He faces a potential death sentence.
The gunman appeared disheveled and unsteady on his feet Monday and had to be helped into the courtroom by two sheriff’s deputies. Weinstein told the judge his client had been placed under a suicide watch at the jail, and was consequently monitored 24 hours a day with the lights on.
He said Frein had not slept since Wednesday, denounced his treatment as “torture,” and said Frein could not assist his lawyers. Weinstein said Frein wrote a single word Monday — “Bible” — and one was brought to him. A clergyman also visited Frein at the courthouse.
Prosecutors said Frein was malingering.
They played a recording of a phone call that Frein placed to his mother on Saturday in which he could be heard talking normally. Frein complained to his mother that Weinstein had been ineffective at the trial.
Weinstein “just completely surrendered,” Frein said.
At another point, Frein told his mother he “didn’t sleep” and, apparently referring to the suicide watch, added: “Talked to the psych this morning, and nobody knows who put me on this or why and nobody knows how to get off of it.”
Outside court, Tonkin said Frein’s behavior Monday was a stalling tactic.
“It’s our belief that he understands perfectly well what’s going on, and that’s really the test for competency,” he said. “I believe he’s acting.”
“I think Eric’s at the end,” he told reporters. “He’s scared.”