MILFORD, Pa. (AP) — The mother of a survivalist who ambushed two Pennsylvania State Police troopers made an emotional appeal for her son’s life Monday, telling jurors who are weighing the death penalty for him, “I want my son to be saved.”
Both of Eric Frein’s parents testified during the penalty phase of their son’s capital murder trial as his lawyers try to persuade the jury to sentence him to life without parole for the murder of Cpl. Bryon Dickson II.
Frein killed Dickson, a 38-year-old father of two, and left a second trooper with debilitating injuries when he opened fire outside the Blooming Grove state police barracks in 2014. He was captured after a 48-day manhunt.
Deborah Frein told jurors her son has been made out to be a monster, “and that’s not who he is at all.”
“I don’t know what happened, but no sane person would do what he did,” she sobbed.
Prosecutors say Frein, 33, targeted the troopers at random in hopes of sparking a revolution. He was convicted last week of murder of a law enforcement officer, terrorism and other offenses.
Monday’s session was delayed for hours after Frein showed up in court appearing disheveled and unsteady on his feet. His defense team said he was refusing to communicate with them and asked the judge for a mental competency exam.
Defense lawyer Michael Weinstein said he learned 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.”
Frein had been placed under a suicide watch at the jail and was consequently monitored 24 hours a day with the lights on, said Weinstein, adding Frein had not slept since Wednesday. He denounced his client’s treatment as “torture.”
Prosecutors accused Frein of malingering, and the judge refused the defense request.
His lawyers are working to spare Frein’s life in part by suggesting he had issues with his father, whom he tried desperately to emulate but could never measure up. Frein was a college dropout who spent most of his time in his bedroom in his parents’ house, with whom he lived into his 30s.
“I failed Eric as a father,” Eugene Michael Frein testified Monday. He apologized to his son and added: “I do love him or I wouldn’t be here.”
Michael Frein told jurors he spent 28 years in the military — retiring as an Army major — but lied to Eric by claiming he’d been wounded in Vietnam, when in reality he never went to Vietnam or saw combat. He said he also falsely claimed to have been a sniper.
Eric Frein grew up hearing “false stories of a hero,” in a household that glorified war and combat, and sought to follow in his father’s footsteps, Weinstein said.
Michael Frein told the jury he thought his son would join the military. Instead, Eric Frein became a military re-enactor. The gunman — one of three children — lied and told his parents he had graduated from college.
“I failed him by not pushing him harder,” said Michael Frein, who has a doctorate in microbiology and worked in the pharmaceutical industry producing vaccines. “I lied to him, so I failed there too.”
Frein added he shared his political views with his son, telling Eric that “government’s too big” and citing a number of cases in which police had shot and killed suspects as “bad police work.”
But he said he never encouraged Eric Frein to target police.
“If he had a plan to shoot or kill anybody I would’ve stopped him,” Michael Frein said.
Eric Frein wrote a letter to his parents while on the run in which he advocated revolution to “get us back the liberties we once had.”
Prosecutors suggested Michael Frein’s testimony was nothing more than a defense gambit.
The jury learned he had a conversation with his son on April 14, which was recorded by the jail, and told Eric, “It is not your fault. Your father is a nut job. That is going to be your defense.”
Frein’s mother, meanwhile, claimed Dickson’s family had “closure” because they had been able to bury him.
“My heart breaks for them but they have closure. We will never have closure. Never,” she said.
Her son dabbed away tears as defense attorneys displayed photos of his family. It was the first time he had shown any emotion during a three-week trial in which prosecutors showed photos of the slain trooper with his own children.