Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Penalty phase begins for trooper’s killer

- By Laurie Mason Schroeder

(Allentown) Morning Call

MILFORD, Pa. — As photos of her husband flashed on a large video screen in a Pike County courtroom Thursday, Tiffany Dickson talked about her life before and after Cpl. Bryon K. Dickson was murdered by Eric Frein.

“There’s no more Tiffany Dickson,” she said, wiping away tears. “I’m ‘the widow.’ Everyone loves that word, ‘widow.’ ”

Ms. Dickson was the first witness called by the prosecutio­n at Mr. Frein’s death penalty hearing. A jury on Wednesday found him guilty of a dozen charges, including first-degree murder of a law enforcemen­t officer and terrorism for his Sept. 12, 2014, ambush at the Blooming Grove state police barracks.

Lawyers are trying to sway the jury for, or against, sentencing Mr. Frein to death. He also could be sentenced to life in prison.

Though his lawyers will present their case later, most likely next week, on Thursday they gave jurors a glimpse into Mr. Frein’s state of mind at the time of the killing. They described him as a “loner” and “geeky guy” who was enthralled by his father’s rants about police overreach.

“Eric tried to emulate his dad,” defense attorney William Ruzzo told the jury. “But he didn’t have the intellect, the ability or the backbone.”

Ms. Dickson was on the stand for more than an hour, and she described her husband of 10 years as a “great teammate” and devoted father to their two sons, who were 5 and 7 when Cpl. Dickson was killed.

In testimony that drew tears from the courtroom audience and the jury, Ms. Dickson talked about telling her sons that their father was dead and described the struggles the boys have had in the two years leading up to Mr. Frein’s trial. Her older son, she said, had to be heavily medicated because of his grief.

“He’s so angry, he’s so sad. He can’t eat, he can’t sleep,” she said, sobbing. “He screams that he wants to die, he wants to die to be with daddy.”

Ms. Dickson told the jury that she has many friends and family to help her, and that the state police have been supportive, but at home she’s overwhelme­d without her husband.

During Mr. Frein’s 10-day trial, Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin argued that Mr. Frein, 33, is a terrorist who was hoping to spark a revolution by assassinat­ing police officers. After killing Cpl. Dickson and critically wounding Trooper Alex Douglass, Mr. Frein hid in the Pocono woods, prompting a 48-day manhunt involving more than 1,000 officers.

Mr. Tonkin has listed several aggravatin­g factors — details that elevate a murder to a capital case — against Mr. Frein, including that Cpl. Dickson was murdered in the line of duty and that Mr. Frein put others at risk of death when he opened fire at the barracks.

The defense is expected to counter with testimony from Mr. Frein’s family members and with expert witnesses who will try to show that mitigating factors are present in Mr. Frein’s case, such as extreme emotional or mental disturbanc­e when he committed the crime.

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