MILFORD, Pa. (AP) — A survivalist who spent more than a month on the run after authorities say he killed one Pennsylvania State Police trooper and wounded another in a late-night ambush pleaded not guilty Thursday, setting the stage for a trial at which prosecutors will seek to put him on death row.
Eric Frein, 31, was arraigned at the Pike County Courthouse in Milford. He participated by video from the county prison, looking into the camera and politely answering questions posed to him by his attorney and the judge.
Asked by defense lawyer Michael Weinstein whether he understood a not-guilty plea would be entered on his behalf, Frein answered in a clear, calm voice: “That’s what I wish.”
Frein is charged with first-degree murder, terrorism and other offenses in the Sept. 12 ambush that killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson and severely wounded Trooper Alex Douglass outside the police barracks in Blooming Grove.
Frein led authorities on a 48-day manhunt in the rugged Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania before U.S. marshals captured him at an abandoned airplane hangar, more than 20 miles from the shooting scene.
District Attorney Ray Tonkin filed notice this week that he will seek the death penalty, listing aggravating factors that include the killing of a police officer.
Weinstein said outside court Thursday that there has been no discussion of a plea.
“It’s very early in this case,” he said, adding that the district attorney “hasn’t seen what we can produce, and we certainly haven’t seen the discovery, so I wouldn’t anticipate that he would start talking about resolution to this case.”
Tonkin told reporters the death penalty is “important in this case,” adding he’s not considering a plea “at this point in time.”
Authorities have said Frein confessed to what he described as an assassination designed to “wake people up” and result in a change in government and the restoration of liberties.
His trial is tentatively scheduled for March, but Weinstein does not expect it to happen until 2016.
One of many issues that will likely need to be resolved is where to hold the trial, with the defense considering a request to move it to another county.
The ambush and subsequent manhunt drew blanket media coverage, and residents were both frightened and inconvenienced as law enforcement officials from around the nation descended on the rural region to look for the trooper’s killer.
“There’s no question that venue’s an issue,” Weinstein said. “We don’t want to pretend it’s not.”