Death Penalty – admissibility of evidence; mitigating circumstances; sufficiency of the evidence 

Commonwealth v. Frein, 745 CAP

This is a direct appeal from the imposition of the death penalty on Eric Matthew Frein, who was convicted of murder in the first degree for the shooting and killing of a state police officer at the state police barracks in Pike County in 2014. Frein thereafter led law enforcement on a manhunt that lasted six weeks.

Frein raise four issues on appeal.  First, he challenges the admission of statements he made to police after his arrest, on grounds that he had invoked his right to remain silent.  The Commonwealth’s response is that Frein’s assertion of his right to remain silent was ambiguous, and that even if Frein initially did invoke his right to remain silent, he later initiated the conversation about the victim that led to the statement in question.

Second, Frein argues that the police violated his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights by improperly denying his right to counsel by depriving an attorney’s access to Frein during custodial interrogation.  The Commonwealth argues in response that the interrogating officers were unaware of the attorney’s request for access to Frein, and that the lawyer in question did not have Frein’s consent to representation at the time, and did not appear for Frein at the preliminary hearing the following day.

Third, Frein argues that the trial court improperly permitted victim impact testimony beyond that of the victim’s wife.  The Commonwealth’s response is that because the jury found aggravating circumstances to exist but no mitigating circumstances, there can be no prejudice.

Fourth, Frein argues that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury to “give effect” to the mitigating evidence it heard during the penalty phase.  The Commonwealth responds that no such instruction was required in this case because the jury was instructed that Frein’s mitigation evidence could serve as mitigating factors in the penalty phase and that based upon that evidence they could show mercy by imposing a life sentence rather than the death penalty.

Finally, as the Court is statutorily required to determine whether the evidence was sufficient to support a verdict of murder in the first degree, the Commonwealth argues that the evidence against Frein is overwhelming that Frein planned to act as a sniper to assassinate the first trooper that walked out of the barracks, and did so.

For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker.