Burkett tells jurors: He will ask them to impose ‘ultimate penalty’
BROOKVILLE — As the penalty phase for Steven P. Rebert began Thursday — two days after he was found guilty of killing Wayne and Victoria Shugar, both 61, in their Coal Tipple Road, Brockway residence in April 2010 — District Attorney Jeffrey Burkett reminded the jury that it’s not all about whether it sends Rebert to prison for the rest of his life, or it sentences him to death.
The phase during which the jury explored Rebert’s innocence or guilt is over: The jury found him guilty of killing the Shugars, Burkett said, “and now, it’s not just about Steven Rebert anymore.
“You will hear testimony about the people Wayne and Vicky were: Loving, kind parents and grandparents,” Burkett said. “You’ll find out what has been lost as a result of Steven Rebert’s crime; what has happened to the Shugar family.
“Steven Rebert stands before you as a convicted first-degree murderer,” Burkett said, noting the jury would hear from the Shugars’ family members, who will continue and forever wonder, “Why?”
“It’s to aid you in the weighing process,” weighing the aggravating circumstances against the mitigating circumstances, Burkett said.
“Continue to be careful. Please know, at the conclusion, I will come to you, and I will ask you to impose the ultimate penalty, and I will argue that the circumstances are justified.”
• First testifying for the Commonwealth was Lori Shugar, wife of the Shugars’ oldest son, Jeff.
She described her husband of almost 13 years as having a very strong work ethic, yet the murders of his parents and the aftermath have changed him.
“I’ve seen him just crumble at the thought of this,” she said.
The aftermath for their family has been fear. Following the homicides, “We all slept in the same bedroom, to be together, to feel safe.”
• Jeff Shugar then testified that he would spend time with his parents every other weekend for “our little special time.” He continues to stop by their shop, Flowers & More, “but it’s hard to go in there.”
“It never made any sense,” he said. “After all this, I still haven’t found any understanding of why something like that would happen.”
The Shugars’ sons Jeff and Jason continue to stop by their parents’ now-empty house, but not all the sons have been there since April 2010.
“Brian just spent his first night there, and Chad still hasn’t been there,” Jeff said.
• Brian Shugar, the couple’s second oldest son, described seeing his family receiving many friends and family for seven hours at his parents’ funeral.
“When I walked to the funeral home, there were two closed caskets, and all I had was a picture of my parents,” he said.
Brian works as a paramedic in Pittsburgh, and had the sorrowful duty of telling the youngest son, Chad, also of Pittsburgh, that their parents had been murdered.
Despite his 20-year career as a paramedic and seeing blood and tragedy at calls, “When you’re cleaning your parents’ blood, you don’t ... No one should go through that. Ever.”
He also said his family continues to live in fear, undertaking a meticulous routine of checking windows, doors, locks, the yard and all over his parents’ Coal Tipple Road home before even entering. Family members have code words to let each other know who is in the house, “because if it’s not one of us, God forbid if it’s someone else.
“You live a fearful life,” Brian said. “I don’t trust anybody. Nobody.”
• Jason Shugar described his parents as soul-mates, the high school wrestler and the high school cheerleader, who, at that point in their lives in the spring of 2010, were looking to slow down and have some personal time away from work.
The month before they were killed, they said “They were going to have some fun, finally.”
Jason and his wife, Jennifer, are expecting their first child, a girl, next month.
“I’m so saddened that they won’t be around when the baby’s born, or when she’s 13 ... they won’t be around any time. I’m very angry about that, too,” he said.
The Shugars last spent Easter 2010 together, enjoying food and family time. But now, Jason said the holidays are “terrible. I dread them now.”
He said he could not stress enough how he thinks about his parents’ final moments the night of April 10, 2010.
“What did he do to them?” he said. “How scared were they?”
• The Shugars’ youngest son, Chad described his parents as volunteers for sports and school activities, and his dad as”Superman.”
“My dad is ... he’s the person I most respect in the world,” he said.
Chad said his father as a quiet man by nature, who didn’t quite understand his son’s job as a advertising/graphic designer for Giant Eagle in Pittsburgh. But after Wayne retired, “He opened up, he laughed and talked and joked.
“My dad’s smile,” Chad said. “I would be coming home from Pittsburgh, and there he is, because that smile ... wonderful.”
He said his job — at which he was responsible for a number of people, with many details to mind — was understanding of his family situation, Chad said. But when he returned, the drive was gone.
“I started missing a lot of details,” he sad. “So in talking to by boss, I took some lower responsibilities. I lost something, so I left. It was affecting other people.”
When asked by Burkett, Chad confirmed that his employment had been terminated.
He seemed to ask the jury before he left the witness stand, “Those last few moments, you can’t forget — and please don’t.”
Rebert — dressed in a blue suit and handcuffed during breaks and lunch time — spent most of the testimony staring down toward the table in front of him or the floor.