DAY 6: Defense, prosecution rest their cases
BROOKVILLE — Both sides in Steven Rebert’s double homicide trial rested their cases Monday following a week of testimony at the Jefferson County Courthouse.
The Commonwealth seeks the death penalty in the case in which Rebert, formerly of Emporium, faces double homicide charges in the shooting deaths of Victoria and Wayne Shugar, both 61, who were found dead April 12, 2010, in their Coal Tipple Road home, Brockway.
Monday, public defender John Ingros, representing Rebert, called to the stand Stephen Buttering, Brockway, who testified that he was home the night of April 10, 2010.
Buttering, who lived a quarter of a mile from the Shugars’ house, said he heard a car around 12:30 a.m. April 11, 2010.
“I heard a car outside, which was parked 20 to 30 yards from my house,” he said, adding that he was able to see the car, which he described a dark-colored vehicle, a four-door Ford Taurus driven by a man with short hair.
Buttering said he was able to identify the vehicle and saw the driver because he had his dome light on, and a neighbor’s security light illuminated the area enough to see the vehicle.
“When he saw me, he hit the gas and took off,” Buttering said.
Under cross examination, District Attorney Jeffrey Burkett asked Buttering why the person driving the Taurus parked so close to his house with the lights on. Buttering said it wasn’t unusual for him to be up late and have many lights on in his home.
Ingros then called Tori Zimmerman, a postal carrier, who testified that she saw a strange man walk along Coal Tipple Road with no vehicle.
She said May 12, 2010, she spoke to a state trooper and described the man with long brown hair and a backpack, who turned around and stared at her.
“He scared me,” Zimmerman said.
Under cross-examination, Burkett asked if she had also seen a vehicle. Zimmerman said she never saw a vehicle, and that the man was walking from Route 28 toward her.
“It seemed so odd; it is strange to see someone walking toward you when delivering on a rural postal route,” she said.
Ingros then called Rick Sellick, who lives across from the Shugar home, who testified that he heard dogs barking between midnight and 1 a.m. April 11, 2010.
“I saw a Ford Explorer being driven down the road and then turn around,” he said. “I saw it twice, and he drove onto the Tram Road, which is a dead-end street. The driver had to turn around; it was unusual to see it twice like that.”
Burkett asked if the car was driven nearby in the middle of the afternoon, to which Sellick said that it was.
Burkett asked Sellick if it was his wife who first saw Rebert’s 1987 Mercury Marquis on Coal Tipple Road March 3, 2010, to which Sellick said she had.
Ingros then called Tpr. David O’ Donnell, who was on the scene at the Shugars’ home after their bodies were discovered April 12, 2010.
O’Donnell said he was interviewing passing motorists traveling down Coal Tipple Road, one of whom was David Glitner, a school bus driver, who said many kids — and two in particular — were acting out what happened at the murder scene as if they knew something about it.
Dale Kiester, who also lives on Coal Tipple Road an eighth of a mile from the Shugar home, said he saw Wayne at his pond, feeding his fish behind his garage. That was the last time Kiester saw him alive.
“I have four security cameras with infrared lenses, one of which is pointed down my driveway,” Kiester said, adding that there was one vehicle that was seen from the security tape that he reviewed with police from the night of April 10, 2010.
Kiester said he could see a vehicle on the surveillance footage, but it was too grainy, and he could barely make out the headlights to identify what kind of vehicle it was, since his infrared camera is clear up to only 60 feet away.
“The audio did not indicate that the vehicle seen on the tape was in need of a new muffler,” Kiester said.
Next, Ingros called Cpl. Donald Haines, of the Brockway Borough Police, who testified that a tall man came up to him on Richardsville Road, where he was on patrol, and reported that he saw four individuals in an older Buick Century on Game School Road.
Haines said the man who spoke to him drove a Jaguar and wished to remain anonymous because of all the burglaries in the area. Haines also said Brockway Police Chief Doug Johnson shared the information with state police.
Burkett asked if the man had seen the vehicle on Coal Tipple Road. Haines replied that the vehicle had been seen only on Game School Road, not Coal Tipple.
Ingros then called Michael Fazekas, who lives on Route 28 two miles from Coal Tipple Road, who said April 10, 2010, he saw a strange man walking along Coal Tipple Road.
“It was 8:15 p.m. and nearly dark, and he was dressed all in black and had a black hoodie on, covering his face,” he said.
Ingros next called Dr. Quinn Lundberg Jr. DMD, whose office is located next to Flowers & More shop, which was owned by the Shugars.
Lundberg said he was at his office Saturday, April 10, 2010, in the late afternoon when he saw the Shugars having a intense conversation with someone in the back of their store.
“I parked behind my office, and I saw the Shugars talking with a young lady who was involved in a serious conversation with them,” he said, adding that when he got out of his car, he saw that the woman was talking with her hands, and the Shugars were standing there listening.
“When I got out of my car, they stopped speaking,” he said. “It was a personal conversation, and they did not want me to hear.”
Lundberg said after the homicides, he called Tpr. David Ray to tell him about the conversation.
Burkett asked if the woman was the Shugars daughter-in-law, Jennifer Shugars. Lundberg said it was.
“She was upset, but I don’t think it was with the Shugars,” he said. “I saw nothing on their faces that she was angry with them.”
Ingros next asked if they were arguing. Lundberg said he didn’t think they were arguing, and that she stopped talking while he was there.
Ingros next recalled Joel Eagleson, who in earlier testimony told the jury about a 15- to 20-minute conversation he and Rebert had in early June 2010, after Rebert had been arrested by authorities in Genessee County, N.Y., for possession of a weapon.
Eagleson testified while in the cell, Rebert was undergoing withdrawal from Oxycontin.
Ingros asked if Eagleson — while he was charged with a crime in New York — had several meetings with authorities. Eagleson said he had.
Ingros next asked if Eagleson had a second summary, in which he received a sentence less than anticipated. Eagleson said he received the reduced sentence because of help he had provided on “another case.”
Under cross examination, Burkett asked if there were no media accounts on that particular case, to which Eagleson replied that there was no deal prior to him going before the judge.
Following a short recess, the defense rested its case, without Rebert taking the stand as had been rumored.
Prior to the Commonwealth resting its case, Burkett recalled Ray, the lead investigator in the case, to review the processing of fingerprints.
Ray said he dusted for prints at the crime scene, including those of Wayne Shugar and some other prints that were not identified, and some unidentifiable, which are prints without enough markings.
Ray said there were no prints found on numerous cardboard boxes found in the sewing room, or the quilt on the floor, or a filing cabinet or scale where the bodies were discovered.
No prints or DNA were found on the Shugars’ cell phones; the live .380 cartridge found on the dresser upstairs; unscrewed light bulbs; and a bottle of Mean Green cleaner, Ray said.
Burkett then asked about when Ray and Cpl. Jeff Lee interviewed Rebert April 25, 2010, regarding the Sheetz videos, if they had asked when the last time Rebert had been in Brockway. Ray testified that Rebert said March 23, 2010, which was contradicted by the Sheetz video from April 10, 2010.
Ray said the search warrant for Rebert’s 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis and his home — from which his desktop computer was confiscated — was executed on the same day, and a shirt located in the car was discovered to be the same shirt worn in the video, along with Rebert’s boots at Sheetz April 10, 2010.
Burkett asked about the computer information Tpr. Matt Powell found on Rebert’s computer. Ray said the searches for numerous coins, including a 1935 Indian Head Nickel, were found in the computer’s history.
Ray said Wayne Shugar’s DNA was found on one of Rebert’s boot June 10, 2010, and Rebert was arrested June 11.
Next, assistant public defender Jacqueline Mizerock asked Ray about the consistency of some items that were either misnumbered or missing from evidence bags. Ray said he didn’t know why.
Mizerock asked if Rebert’s fingerprints were found anywhere at the crime scene. Ray said they were not.
She then asked Ray about Wayne Shugar’s jeans and mysterious DNA that was found on them. Ray said the DNA belonged to neither Wayne Shugar nor Rebert, and the DNA found underneath the victims’ fingernails could not be identified.
Mizerock asked again if Rebert’s fingerprints or DNA was found anywhere at the crime scene. Ray said it was not, and he also said there was no forced entry into the home, and that the Shugars always locked their doors at night.
Rebert’s T-shirt was tested, and no blood or DNA was found on it, either Ray said.
Today, closing arguments will be heard, and the instructions to the jury will be given by Judge John H. Foradora.