Eric Frein will get a legal team with decades of murder trial experience, including a lawyer who has both prosecuted and defended death penalty cases.
The Pike County Public Defender's Office on Monday confirmed that a judge had appointed Robert Bernathy and Michael Weinstein to represent Frein, the alleged killer of a state trooper, who was captured Thursday after a 48-day manhunt in the Poconos.
Weinstein confirmed that he was appointed at a rate of $178 an hour and that he met Monday with Frein in prison. He declined to elaborate. Bernathy did not return a call for comment.
The pair are well-known in their region.
Bernathy was named the county's chief public defender, a part-time job, in January after years as a private lawyer and assistant public defender.
Weinstein served as Pike County district attorney in the 1980s and has since worked as a private lawyer and assistant public defender. Among the defendants he has represented is Rockne Newell, accused of opening fire and killing three people at a Ross Township supervisors meeting in Monroe County last year.
Frein, 31, qualifies for two court-appointed attorneys because he would face the death penalty if convicted in the Sept. 12 ambush that killed Cpl. Bryon K. Dickson and wounded Trooper Alex Douglass. Held without bail in a maximum security cell, he is being monitored around the clock and "receives recreation alone," said Pike County Warden Craig Lowe.
A preliminary hearing to review the murder and attempted murder charges against him is scheduled for Nov. 12. But the odds of a trial in Pike County - a region that was nearly paralyzed by the manhunt - could be slim.
Finding impartial jurors from a potential pool of about 60,000 residents could be difficult, said Thomas Mincer, a former assistant public defender and longtime defense attorney in Pike.
Mincer said he expected the trial to move to another county or for jurors to be imported from beyond Pike County. Even then, he said, the county would likely have to ask the state to assign a senior judge to the case, because it has only two judges and a one-courtroom courthouse.
"Any way you look at it, it's going to end up costing Pike County at least $500,000," Mincer said. "It's going to be a real budget-buster."
Frein is lucky to have lawyers with such backgrounds, Mincer said. And the lawyers prosecuting the case, Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin and first-assistant Bruce DeSarro, have tried most of the murders in the county in the last 15 years, including capital cases.
Taken together, the experience among the four lawyers will likely limit Frein's ability to appeal if he is convicted and sentenced to death.
"You're getting a justice system working the way it's supposed to," Mincer added. "Whatever decision you get out of this will be the right decision."
After nearly seven weeks on the run, Frein was captured by a team of U.S. marshals on the former runway of an abandoned airplane hangar in Tannersville, Monroe County. Officials then searched the hangar because Frein told the marshals that a handgun and rifle were stashed inside, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in the case.
Inside the hangar, officials found firearms, ammunition, and journal entries that they believe Frein wrote about his days on the run, the records show.