Trooper's widow gives heart-rending testimony in Eric Frein penalty phase
MILFORD — The widow of a state police trooper shot and killed by a survivalist in a 2014 ambush described a sad, lonely life without him and said their two young sons are struggling.
“I don't have a break. I'm just really tired,” Tiffany Dickson, the widow of Cpl. Bryon Dickson II, told jurors on Thursday at the trial of her husband's killer. “He was my break, and he was a really good teammate. I'm just angry I can't grow old with him now.”
She testified at a hearing to determine whether Eric Frein will be sentenced to death or to life in prison without parole.
Frein, 33, was convicted on Wednesday of all 12 charges he faced after targeting the state police in a late-night sniper attack. He was captured after a weekslong manhunt.
The focus on Thursday shifted to the impact of Frein's crimes. He killed Dickson, a 38-year-old Marine veteran, and critically wounded Trooper Alex Douglass, who was shot through both hips as he came to the aid of his mortally wounded comrade and suffers from a range of health problems. Douglass told the jurors he might have to have one of his legs amputated below the knee.
In emotional testimony that left some in the courtroom shaken, Tiffany Dickson recalled how she spoke to her husband on the phone about 30 minutes before he was killed.
“Kiss the boys for me. I love you,” she said he told her.
Less than two hours later, two troopers and a priest showed up at their door.
After Dickson's killing, their older son, who had just turned 8, couldn't eat or sleep, and he started biting himself and wetting the bed.
“He screamed, ‘I just want to die. I want to see Daddy. Can't we just die together?' ” Tiffany Dickson said, adding he had to be medicated.
Her younger son, who was 5 at the time, was angry and likewise couldn't eat or sleep. He remains defiant and hates school, she said.
She said she's lost part of her own identity.
“I'm the widow of the slain trooper,” she said. “I'm a widow. Everybody loves that word.”
Prosecutors urged the same jury that convicted Frein to send him to death row, while defense lawyers argued for a sentence of life without parole. The penalty phase is expected to wrap up early next week.
Frein melted into the woods after taking four shots with a high-powered rifle, eluding capture for nearly seven weeks. Prosecutors say he opened fire on random troopers at the Blooming Grove barracks in the Pocono Mountains, in northeastern Pennsylvania, because he was trying to spark a revolution.
“Think about what that means,” Pike County First Assistant District Attorney Bruce DeSarro told the jury on Thursday as he opened the penalty phase of the trial. “This defendant was attacking our system of government.”
Frein's lawyer, William Ruzzo, asked jurors to show mercy. He described Frein as a loner and “geeky guy” who tried to emulate his father, a retired major with a doctorate in microbiology, but could never measure up. He said Frein and his father shared a mistrust of authority.
Frein wrote a letter to his parents while on the run, advocating revolution as a way to “get us back the liberties we once had.”
He was convicted of first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, attempted murder, terrorism and two weapons of mass destruction counts related to small bombs he left in the woods during the manhunt.
Police linked Frein to the ambush after a man walking his dog discovered his partly submerged SUV three days later in a swamp a few miles from the shooting scene. Inside, investigators found shell casings matching those found at the barracks and Frein's driver's license.
The discovery sparked a manhunt that involved 1,000 law enforcement officials and spanned more than 300 square miles, rattling communities throughout the Poconos.