By Joe McDonald
MILFORD, Pa. (Reuters) – The Pennsylvania survivalist who eluded a 48-day manhunt after a sniper attack that killed one state trooper and wounded another pleaded not guilty on Thursday to murder charges.
Eric Frein, 31, appeared at his arraignment through a video conference from Pike County Correctional Facility, where he is being held without bail.
He was asked by Judge Greg Chelak in the Pike County Courthouse whether he wanted to plead not guilty to fatally shooting Corporal Bryon Dickson and wounding Trooper Alex Douglass on Sept. 12, 2014 during a late night shift change at the Blooming Grove state police barracks.
“That’s what I wish,” Frein said in a firm voice, standing tall and still in an orange jumpsuit.
Pale, clean shaven and looking almost bookish, far from the bedraggled man he appeared at the time of his arrest, he repeatedly answered the judge’s questions about whether he had seen paperwork with a polite, “Yes, I have” and “Yes, I do.”
If convicted of the top charge of first-degree murder, Frein could face the death penalty.
Asked outside the courtroom about the possibility of a plea bargain to spare Frein from a death sentence, District Attorney Ray Tonkin, said he was “not considering a plea at this time.” He declined to discuss the case further.
Prosecutors have said Frein harbored anti-government views for years and hoped the shootings would spark a “revolution.”
After the gun violence, Frein, who lived at his parents’ home not far from the ambush site and is an experienced outdoorsman, fled into the surrounding Pocono Mountains, about 100 miles north of Philadelphia. The FBI put him on its Most Wanted List and an intensive manhunt put the community on edge for weeks – at a cost of $11 million.
He was captured by U.S. Marshals outside an abandoned airplane hangar in a former resort near Tannersville, Pennsylvania.
Judge Chelak added Frein to the March trial list but defense lawyer Michael Weinstein said he believed the case would not go to trial before 2016.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Sandra Maler)