MILFORD, Pa. – A prosecutor asked jurors Tuesday to deliver “full justice” in the trial of a man accused of killing a police trooper and injuring a second in a 2014 sniper attack at their barracks, calling the defendant an assassin who targeted law enforcement in hopes of sparking a revolution.
Eric Frein “slithered through the underbrush” in the dark of night, concealed himself in woods across the street from the Blooming Grove barracks in northeastern Pennsylvania, and took aim at Cpl. Bryon Dickson II and Trooper Alex Douglass during a late-night shift change, Pike County First Assistant District Attorney Bruce DeSarro told the panel during his opening statement.
“Right then and right there, Cpl. Dickson’s service and his watch on behalf of all of us came to an end,” DeSarro said.
Douglass, he added, has endured 18 surgeries following the ambush on Sept. 12, 2014. Douglass was in the courtroom Tuesday and is expected to testify.
Frein, 33, who eluded capture for nearly seven weeks, sparking an enormous manhunt that rattled communities throughout the Pocono Mountains, faces a potential death sentence if he’s convicted.
His own attorney acknowledged the enormity of the crime.
“It’s a tragedy I don’t know how this county will recover from,” Michael Weinstein told jurors in his opening statement.
Nicole Palmer, the first witness called by prosecutors, was working as a state police dispatcher that night and had just arrived for her shift when she heard a loud gunshot and saw Dickson on the ground just outside the door.
Palmer said she opened the door and found Dickson on his back, looking up at the night sky and mouthing “help me.” She said he was unable to speak because his throat was filling with blood.
She went back inside to try to call for help, then returned to ask Dickson what had happened.
“I’ve been shot. Drag me inside,” he managed to say to her, according to Palmer.
“I looked at him and told him, ‘I can’t,'” she recounted tearfully.
Prosecutors showed surveillance video of Dickson crumpling to the ground after being shot, followed by Douglass, who had knelt beside his mortally wounded comrade. Douglass then crawled into the lobby of the Blooming Grove barracks on his stomach — his legs immobilized by the gunfire — where a trooper dragged him through a doorway and out of sight.
Other troopers drove a patrol SUV into the parking lot and used it as a shield so they could drag Dickson into the barracks and begin attempts to save his life. He died at the scene.
Wearing a suit, Frein listened stoically to the testimony. His parents were in the gallery, as was Dickson’s widow.
Earlier, the prosecutor had methodically laid out the case against the anti-government survivalist. Using animations, photos, video and audio, DeSarro described the attack, the chaotic aftermath, Frein’s escape and the 48-day manhunt.
DeSarro told the jury that U.S. marshals captured one of the FBI’s most-wanted fugitives at an abandoned airplane hangar where authorities also found the murder weapon — a semi-automatic rifle — with Frein’s DNA on it.
After speaking for an hour and 40 minutes, the prosecutor asked the jury to provide “nothing less, and I mean nothing less, than full justice.” The words were spelled out in giant blue letters on a TV screen as DeSarro said them.
Frein’s attorney’s opening statement, meanwhile, took only six minutes.
Weinstein reminded jurors that Frein is presumed innocent and said the government must prove its case. Frein won’t take the stand, he said, but jurors will get to know him when they watch a videotaped interview that police conducted on the night of his arrest.
“It will give you a chance to meet Eric. It will give you a chance to see what he’s like,” Weinstein said.
The defence had tried to suppress Frein’s confession, asserting police had violated his right to remain silent, but a judge ruled the jury would be permitted to see it.
DeSarro showed jurors the crumpled notebook pages that police found during the manhunt — part of a journal written in Frein’s hand in which the gunman describes how he “got a shot around 11 p.m. and took it,” watching one of his victims fall “still and quiet.”
DeSarro also showed them portions of a letter that authorities say Frein wrote to his parents while on the run.
“Our nation is far from what it was and what it should be,” the letter said. “There is so much wrong and on so many levels only passing through the crucible of another revolution can get us back the liberties we once had. … Tension is high at the moment and the time seems right for a spark to ignite a fire in the hearts of men.”