2 of 3 skinheads held in murders start to talk

March 29, 1995|By Knight-Ridder News Service

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- First, there was murder in the family. Now there is betrayal.

The case of three Allentown teen-agers, skinheads with defiant words tattooed high on their foreheads under the fuzz growing back on their shaved pates, is growing more venal as they sit in jail awaiting a preliminary examination scheduled for April 26.

Bryan and David Freeman, charged with three counts of homicide in the deaths of their parents and younger brother, are being held without bail.

A hearing has been requested to consider reducing the $250,000 bail of Nelson "Ben" Birdwell 3rd, who so far has been charged only with hindering the capture of his two cousins when all three fled to Michigan.

Isolated from each other for three weeks in separate cells both in Michigan and in Lehigh County, Pa., at least two of the youths are turning against each other.

David Freeman, who turned 16 just two weeks before the murders on the night of Feb. 26, has implicated Mr. Birdwell in the carnage, according to his lawyer.

The 18-year-old youth denies taking part in the slayings and accuses his 17-year-old cousin, Bryan Freeman, of starting the killings when he "snapped" over his mother's nagging, grabbed her from behind and stabbed her.

Bryan Freeman, apparently, is the only one who is not seeking to plea-bargain by talking.

Now that Pennsylvania has a new governor who favors the death penalty, their lives could be at stake. The prosecutor is studying death-penalty guidelines in the 38 states that allow executions, mulling over whether to ask a jury for the ultimate sentence if he convicts the Freeman brothers.

Lehigh County District Attorney Robert Steinberg also said he was awaiting test results -- including fingerprint analyses and DNA typing of blood found on the weapons and on clothing at the murder scene -- before deciding whether to charge Mr. Birdwell with additional crimes.

The bodies of Dennis and Brenda Freeman and their 11-year-old son, Eric, were found Feb. 27 in their split-level home barely a mile up the road from the Jehovah's Witness temple that was the center of their lives.

Dennis Freeman, a janitor at the high school where his two elder sons attended half-days while dividing their school days at a vocational education school, was found in his bedroom. His head was bashed with one or possibly two blunt clubs and his throat was slit. His hands were raised, as if he had awakened briefly and had tried to ward off the attack.

His wife, who had pleaded with police not to press charges against her sons when they threatened her, was found downstairs by her sons' bedrooms. She had been stabbed and beaten with a blunt instrument.

Young Eric apparently never woke up. He was in his bed, bludgeoned to death.

The Freeman brothers and their cousin were missing, having fled in their father's convertible that he had never permitted the teen-agers to drive. They were picked up in a rural Michigan home, and waived extradition.

Public defenders appointed to represent the two Freeman youths declined to comment.

Richard Makoul, the lawyer hired by the Birdwell family, said he has learned from David Freeman's lawyer that the youngest defendant says that Mr. Birdwell had participated.

District Attorney Steinberg would not comment on David Freeman's assertions or say whether the youth was cooperating with the prosecution. Mr. Makoul said he did not anticipate that David Freeman's allegations would be accepted at face value.

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