Nearly three months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders are unconstitutional, Bryan and David Freeman of Salisbury Township are challenging their 1995 life sentences for brutally beating and stabbing to death their parents and younger brother when they were teens.
The commonwealth of Pennsylvania has filed a motion to stay the Freeman brothers' sentence pending a decision by the state Legislature on how to deal with juveniles convicted of homicide. A hearing will be held today in Lehigh County Court in front of Judge Douglas Reichley.
Charles Banta, the attorney representing David Freeman, now 33, filed a petition under the Post Conviction Relief Act, arguing his client's mandatory life sentence without parole was cruel and unusual punishment and violated his constitutional rights. Banta said the judge should vacate his sentence.
Lehigh County Senior Deputy District Attorney Heather Gallagher will ask for a stay of the proceedings until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules on appeals in two other cases involving juveniles who were convicted of homicide and were sentenced to life, including Easton killer Qu'eed Batts.
- whether the U.S. Supreme Court ruling should apply retroactively to juveniles whose cases were over and who did not have any appeals pending.
- whether the state Supreme Court will say that the State Parole Board should be the one to decide when and if a juvenile should be released if the juvenile and his/her lawyer file a petition for parole.
The Freeman brothers' case made national headlines for its savagery. On the night of Feb. 26, 1995, Bryan Freeman, then 17, his brother David, then 16, and their cousin, Nelson "Ben" Birdwell III, then 18, returned from the movies to the Freemans' Ehrets Lane home. That's when the massacre began.
Brenda Freeman, 48, was found dead the next day stabbed multiple times with a steak knife and a pair of shorts stuffed in her mouth. Her husband, Dennis, 54, was bludgeoned to death in his bed with an aluminum baseball bat, and their son, Erik, 11, was struck numerous times with a pickax handle as he lay sleeping in bed.
The Freeeman brothers confessed to killing their parents, but denied killing Erik. Birdwell is also serving a life sentence without parole.
The Freeman never gave any motive for the killings. The boys had complained their parents, who were devout members of the Jehovah Witness hall on E. Emmaus Avenue, were strict. Bryan Freeman was hospitalized twice for mental illness and David received treatment for substance abuse and had been in several juvenile facilities, according to The Morning Call. Both had previously threatened to kill their parents, the article said.
The brothers, who attended were known to espouse neo-Nazi beliefs, wear military clothing and shaved heads, their foreheads emblazoned with neo-Nazi tattoos. David sported a tattoo that said "Sieg Heil" and Bryan had the words "berserker" tattooed on his forehead and a swastika on his neck.