Trial begins for man accused in deadly ambush of Pennsylvania troopers

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Jury selection begins Thursday in the trial of a Pennsylvania man accused of shooting two state troopers, killing one and starting a 48-day manhunt in 2014.

Eric Frein, 33, is on trial in Milford in Pennsylvania’s northeastern Pike County, with a jury to be chosen in the state’s southeastern West Chester County. Selected jurors will travel to Milford and remain there for the duration of the trial.

Frein is accused of first-degree murder and terrorism charges, and is facing the death penalty for the ambush and shooting of two state police officers on Sept. 12, 2014. Cpl. Byron Dickson II was shot and killed, and Trooper Alex Douglass was injured during a shooting at a remote trooper barracks.

Frein appeared on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted List” after the 2014 shooting, and triggered a manhunt lasting 48 days and involving more than 1,000 law enforcement officers searching the Pocono Mountains region of the state. Lives of area residents were disrupted by the manhunt: schools were closed, trapping was banned in the area and the typically lucrative fall foliage season attracted few tourists.

Police released information regarding Frein’s alleged survivalist skills; they regularly announced finding evidence including his journals, supply lists and weapons, and hundreds of alleged sightings were reported. One man said he was stopped at least 20 times by police because of his resemblance to Frein and received more than $24,000 from sympathetic funders through an online fundraising campaign. Authorities arrested Frein on Oct. 30, 2014.

The manhunt attracted national media attention and prompted defense attorneys to seek jurors from another county, who were aware of, but unaffected by, the case.

“We are looking forward to starting jury selection and getting the trial underway,” said Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin, who earlier in the week said Judge Gregory Chelak “acted appropriately” in calling for an out-of-county jury.

The evidence against Frein is strong, and the trial will likely be focused on whether he will receive the death penalty for Dickson’s death. Potential jurors will be dismissed if they are morally opposed to the death penalty, the Philadelphia inquirer reported Thursday. Although Pennsylvania has had a moratorium on executions since 2015, death-penalty trials have continued. The state has executed three people since 1978.

UPI