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It’s time to put cop-killer to death

One of the state’s most notorious killers is officially scheduled to die by lethal injection on June 22, but who knows when, if ever, he actually is put to death.

Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel earlier this month signed a Notice of Execution that set the date for the execution of Eric Frein, 37, but it is unlikely that Gov. Tom Wolf will allow the execution to go forward since there is a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania

Frein was convicted of gunning down state police Cpl. Byron Dickson and wounding Trooper Alex Douglass at the Blooming Grove state police substation in Pike County in September 2014. Frein was living with his parents in Canadensis, Monroe County, at the time.

Nearly 1,000 federal, state and local law enforcement officers participated in a grueling 40-day search for Frein before he was located and taken into custody at an abandoned airport hangar in Pocono Township, Monroe County.

During that time, areas of the Poconos and several schools were ordered to lock down their facilities while people in the search area were ordered to shelter in place.

Investigators said it appeared as if it were a “game” to Frein, who admitted to the shootings but never indicated why he did it. Frein’s defense attorneys attempted to paint a picture of him as the victim of abuse as a child and a desire to please his father, who was portrayed as an anti-government activist.

On April 19, 2017, Frein was found guilty on all charges. A week later, the jury recommended the death penalty. The following day Frein was formally sentenced to death by lethal injection.

Calling the evidence against him “overwhelming,” the state Supreme Court upheld the death sentence two years later.

One of the first things Gov. Tom Wolf did when he was sworn in nearly 5½ years ago was to issue a moratorium on the death penalty until a task force seated in 2011 to study the death penalty completed its work. Wolf called the current system flawed, ineffective, unjust and expensive.”

Wolf’s moratorium angered state associations for state police and district attorneys. Critics of the death penalty argue that the state spends hundreds of millions of dollars for a dysfunctional system.

Nearly seven years later, in 2018, the task force, made up of four senators (two from each party) and nearly two dozen advisory members, did not recommend abolishing the death penalty, as many anti-death penalty groups had advocated. It recommended making the state’s lethal injection protocol public and that it use “an appropriate and effective drug” to execute guilty criminals humanely.

Other recommendations included:

• Setting up a publicly funded agency to give representation to defendants in capital crime cases.

• Adopting “guilty but mentally ill” as a degree of guilt

• Following the lead of other states that collect data to determine whether death sentences are used in an unfair, arbitrary or discriminatory way.

The report highlighted numerous flaws in the administration of the death penalty, including the risk of executing an innocent person. Wolf promised to review the findings to determine what to do next. It has been 23 months since the task force filed its report. The General Assembly has yet to address the inadequacies in the death penalty system. What is the holdup?

Pennsylvania has had a death penalty law on the books since 1978. It has been 21 years since the last execution occurred in the state. That’s when Philadelphia torture killer Gary Heidnik was put to death for imprisoning and murdering two women. Between 1978 and 1999, three defendants were executed.

In the meantime, we have this heinous cop-killer on death row. If ever there was a clear-cut death penalty case, this is it.

David Kennedy, president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, echoes my feelings: “Eric Frein ambushed unsuspecting troopers in the dark at their barracks, murdering one and seriously injured another. His death sentence has been upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. There is no question in anyone’s mind that he committed these horrific crimes. One trooper’s children are growing up without their father, and another is living with serious injuries for the rest of his life.”

Gov. Wolf should sign this coward’s death warrant and end his life.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com