By Stephen Owsinski
The district attorney prosecuting cop-killer Eric Matthew Frein announced he will seek the death penalty, despite newly-elected Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s moratorium on capital punishment imposed on February 13, 2015. At a press conference declaring his stance, Governor Wolf suggested his state’s death penalty is “error prone, expensive and anything but infallible,” halting executions while awaiting study results from a bipartisan review board. However, Pike County District Attorney Raymond Tonkin rebuked the governor’s moratorium, claiming Wolf has no legal authority to bar prosecutors from seeking the death penalty.
Infamously, Frein is the alleged sole perpetrator pertaining to the ambush-style death of Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Bryon Dickson and attempted murder of Trooper Alex Douglass which transpired on September 12, 2014, as they were changing shifts at the Blooming Grove police barracks.
Subsequent to a 45-day manhunt involving scores of law enforcement officers searching for the assassin of one Pennsylvania state trooper and wounding another via a cowardly sniper attack, Frein, described as a survivalist, was eventually apprehended. He is pleading not guilty and is awaiting trial.
If convicted, Frein is subject to the death penalty. Despite the governor balking at the state’s capital punishment statute, Tonkin intimated he does not see “any legal impediment” for his office to go forward, prosecute and, in the event of a conviction, seek the death penalty for Frien.
Tonkin stated Gov. Wolf “usurped the authority of the legislature and courts in setting the lawful punishment for convicted killers.” According to lehighvalleylive.com, the district attorneys from surrounding counties are supportive of Tonkin’s decision to go forward, notwithstanding Gov. Wolf’s stipulation. Given the impasse and difference of opinion between the governor and district attorneys, one can only suspect legal wrangling to ensue.
As a prosecutor seeking justice on behalf of two Pennsylvania state troopers, Tonkin stands firm regarding his mission as an officer of the court. “Gov. Wolf’s unilateral and potentially unlawful action today does not prevent my office from seeking justice on behalf of the Dickson family and the entire state police family in the matter of Commonwealth v. Eric Matthew Frein.”
This is neither the first time nor the first governor to halt executions of criminals in Pennsylvania. Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli filed a lawsuit against former Gov. Bob Casey to compel him to endorse death warrants of inmates sentenced to execution. Per a press release issued by Morganelli, “Governors are charged with the duty of enforcing the laws of the state, not with acting as a super legislature or a court in declaring them null and void.”
The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association issued a press release asserting Wolf is misusing his gubernatorial authority. The PDAA claims Wolf is disregarding the law and imposing his personal views about the death penalty.
Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections records indicate their last death row inmate executed was in July 1999. Further, only three inmates were executed in Pennsylvania prisons since the U.S. Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976. However, since that time, six male death row inmates have been exonerated, per a statement made by Governor Wolf.
Currently, 183 men and three women face execution in Pennsylvania. One of those death row inmates, George Hitcho, is appealing his death sentence for the murder of Freemansburg police officer Robert Lasso.
With a plethora of evidence, forensic analysis results implicating him, and his self-authored accounts of felling both Cpl. Dickson and Trooper Douglass with his assault rifle, Frein provided substantive self-incriminating material. Prosecutors will undoubtedly use the abundance of evidence to bolster their case in efforts to attain conviction of a cop killer. No matter the governor’s moratorium, district attorneys are steaming ahead with sights on adding one more to the 186 inmates awaiting execution in Pennsylvania.
As a long-standing purveyor of anti-police sentiments, Frein immobilized his plan to kill unsuspecting state troopers. As the nation watched with bated breath, like an animal in the wild, Frein burrowed deep in the wooded area surrounding the crime scene. Now, he is incarcerated…awaiting his fate, perhaps including a death sentence.