Death Penalty For Eric Frein? Experts Think The Prosecution Might Struggle

After a 48-day manhunt for alleged cop killer Eric Frein, it was announced by Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin that he would seek the death penalty.

Frein was taken into custody and charged with the murder of Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Bryon K. Dickson II of Dunmore. He was also charged with the attempted murder of Trooper Alex T. Douglass and for possessing a weapon of mass destruction.

With all the evidence against the Canadensis native, some many anticipate an easy road to a death penalty conviction for the prosecution.

However, experts aren’t so sure.

Former Lackawanna County District Attorney Ernest Preate said, “Every death penalty case is difficult to prove.” Based on his experiences, Preate feels that this high profile case will be “scrutinized by the courts” and that even the “slightest error” could be used against prosecutors.

31-year-old Frein’s life may be spared for the simple fact that death penalty cases in the United States have become extremely difficult to prosecute. As the death penalty falls increasingly out of favor with members of the American public, it’s possible that the prosecution may simply not be able to convince a jury that Frein should die.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of successful death penalty prosecutions has declined over the past few decades. There were just 79 death sentences handed down in 2013, far lower than the high of 315 in 1996. Of the 2013 total, only six death penalty sentences were passed in Pennsylvania.

Why so few?

In addition to changing attitudes, some experts say it could be the Pennsylvania laws that are making death penalty cases too hard for state prosecutors.

Pennsylvania law states that a separate sentencing hearing is required, following a successful first degree murder conviction.

If Tonkin is able to get Frein convicted for the murder of the state police corporal, he must then present evidence that will move all the members of the jury to decide on the death penalty. If the decision is not unanimous, then Frein will evade being put to death.

Experts do agree that working in the favor of the prosecution is Dickson’s status as a police officer.

Bruce L. Castor Jr., the former president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, made this observation about the upcoming trial:

“The jury is going to be very disturbed by the fact a police officer was killed. Police are guardians of freedom. If one of them is attacked, it is an attack on the sanctity of the community and their way of life.”

Do you believe Eric Frein will get the death penalty or is a life sentence more likely?

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