The longer the search for Eric Frein drags on, the less likely it becomes that he'll exit the woods in anything but a body bag.
"This is an exceedingly dangerous game he's playing," said Randy Sutton, a retired lieutenant with the Las Vegas Police Department who had a role in four officer-involved shootings, two of them fatal.
"The police at that scene are probably spread to their limits and highly stressed. If they believe those woods are booby-trapped, then literally every step they take is a high-adrenaline situation."
By law, police officers can't just shoot Frein if they find him sleeping in a Poconos cave. But they don't have to wait until he starts firing bullets to take him down.
"The law permits police officers to use deadly force to respond to a close risk of death or physical injury," said Connecticut defense attorney and author Norm Pattis. "The officers cannot gratuitously kill him. But they needn't wait until he shoots first before firing."
Thursday marked the 20th day that police were scouring the Pennsylvania woods searching for Frein. The 31-year-old unemployed survivalist and Cold War re-enactor is accused in the ambush shooting of two Pennsylvania state troopers at a state police barracks about 20 miles from the search area.
Killed in the Sept. 12 attack was Cpl. Bryon Dickson, a 38-year-old father of two. A second trooper, Alex Douglass, was shot and seriously wounded.
Hundreds of state and federal law enforcement officers have joined in the search, driving armored vehicles through residents' back yards and using locksmiths to get into vacant hunting cabins.
Each day, officials say they are confident they're looking in the right place for Frein. And each night, the searchers return to home base empty-handed.
Sutton, who was a police officer for 34 years, said there's no doubt that frustration is mounting among the officers, many of whom volunteered to join the search to avenge their slain fellow officer. Each cop in the woods is imagining what might happen if he's the one who finds Frein.
"No matter how justified you are in taking a life, that's a life-changing decision for a police officer. Most officers never have to fire their weapons, and the ones who do usually retire within two years of the event," he said.
Sutton, who has written numerous books on law enforcement techniques, has been following the Frein search closely via media accounts. He said the fact that police believe that Frein has made pipe bombs and hidden explosives around the woods might actually save the fugitive's life if there's a confrontation.
"If he's dead and those woods are riddled with booby traps, they'll never know where they are," he said. "I'd think they would try to use that in negotiations, saying they'll guarantee his safety at arrest if he cooperates and tells them where to find the bombs so that nobody else gets hurt."
Pattis, who has defended police officers accused of unlawfully shooting suspects, said there is no legal obligation for cops to give Frein repeated chances to surrender. Once an officer reasonably believes he's in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, or that he needs to protect a fellow officer or member of the community from death or serious bodily harm, deadly force is justified.
"When do we approach that tipping point? I don't think the law provides a clear answer. These decisions are made in an instant."
Sutton said he doubts that Frein will be taken alive.
"He's demonstrated that he's a killer. He's demonstrated that he's skilled with firearms. He's demonstrated that he has no respect for human life. He's demonstrated that he hates law enforcement. My guess is he's escalated the situation to this point as part of a plan, and it's an exceedingly dangerous situation for everyone involved."
Pattis says he thinks it's still possible for Frein to walk out of those woods in handcuffs.
"What I would ask him is: What do you want the rest of your life to look like? If he's committed these acts as part of a political statement, then he needs to remember that he can't speak from a grave. It's time for him to wave a white flag."