REBERT DAY 5: Victim’s DNA found on Rebert’s boots, witness says
BROOKVILLE — Testimony on the fifth day of Steven Rebert’s double homicide trial revealed that while performing a DNA profile, Pennsylvania State Police forensic scientists found the DNA of one of the victims, Wayne Shugar, on Rebert’s work boots.
Rebert, 46, formerly of Emporium, faces double homicide charges in the shooting deaths of Wayne and Victoria Shugar, both 61, who were found dead April 12, 2010, in their Coal Tipple Road home, Brockway.
At the prosecution’s request, the court and the defense approved Tim Gavel, forensic scientist from the Greensburg DNA lab, as a qualified expert.
Gavel testified that he had received Rebert’s work boots from the trunk of his car when police executed a search warrant April 29, 2010, on his home and vehicle. The search also yielded numerous personal items from his home, including his two computers.
Also testifying as an expert witness was Micah Wilpula, PSP forensic scientist from the Erie Crime Lab, who said she received evidence of blood and saliva as she performed an examination for trace evidence of the 40 items received from District Attorney Jeffrey Burkett.
Wilpula said she prepared tubes of blood from Wayne and Vickie Shugar and made sure they were strictly preserved, plated and dried for DNA purposes, and prepared the samples for DNA testing.
“I examined and noticed trace evidence and staining on Rebert’s boots,” Wilpula said, adding that she collected the stain on a cotton swab until it dried and then sent it for a DNA profile.
Wilpula said she must have enough of a sample to perform a confirmatory test on the sample.
The dried blood samples were sent to Greensburg May 27, 2010, with additional samples from the boot laces removed, and other DNA samples were sent to the lab June 22, 2010.
Gavel said Wayne Shugar’s DNA was identified in 14 to 15 sections on the heel of Rebert’s left boot.
The arresting officer, Trooper David Ray, testified that he transported the evidence, attended the Shugars’ autopsies and viewed their bodies at the crime scene on Coal Tipple Road. He was also present when Rebert’s 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis and his boots were transported to the crime lab.
Ray said he delivered the court order for Rebert to have a a DNA swab buckle performed, and the swab was sealed, which was was placed in property records and then transported to the lab.
In other testimony Friday:
• Trooper Matt Powell, computer crime division at PSP-Indiana, said he prepared an Excel spread sheet regarding Rebert’s Web surfing habits and a spread sheet for a shadow file April 29, 2010.
Rebert’s attorney John Ingros questioned Powell about the search of Rebert’s desktop and laptop computers, asking asked about Internet Protocol (IP) addresses that consist of four numbers separated by periods. Powell said every device connected to the public Internet is assigned an IP address.
Since these numbers are usually assigned to Internet service providers within region-based blocks, an IP address can often be used to identify the region or country from which a computer is connected to the Internet, Powell said. An IP address can sometimes be used to also show the user’s general location.
Powell said due to the nature of the investigation, data from Rebert’s computer had to be more accurately analyzed.
Burkett asked Powell on redirect if he looked at Rebert’s Internet history and Uniform Resource Locator (URL), a a specific character string that constitutes a reference to an Internet resource, on his spread sheets. Powell said the URLs were on the spread sheet for analysis by other investigators working on the case.
• Sgt. Tom Chelgren, PSP-Punxsy criminal investigation section supervisor, said he created an Excel spread sheet tracking Rebert’s numerous cell phones and home phone system calls.
Chelgren said Rebert’s phones were found to contain evidence that he placed Star-67 hang-up calls between Jan. 1, 2010 through March 19, 2010, to Michelle Bright, a former friend of Rebert’s, of DuBois, who had also testified that she had received hang-up calls from him.
Star-67 is an anonymous phone call placed so the receiving party cannot see who is placing the call.
Also in her earlier testimony, Bright said Rebert called her after police executed the April 29, 2010 search warrant on his house and vehicle.
Chelgren also testified about how Rebert’s Web surfing had changed from mostly sports and national news prior to the Shugars’ homicide, to searching for news from Jefferson County and the Brockway area from local newspapers and Altoona-Johnstown TV stations. He also said Rebert’s Internet activity had dropped off significantly between April 10, 2010, and April 11, 2010.
“On April 10, Rebert’s activity on the Internet was shown at 4:08 and 5:05 p.m., where he checked weather and e-mail,” he said. “At 6:08 p.m., he accessed information on the Masters Golf Tournament.”
Chelgren testified that his next activity wasn’t until 5:10 a.m. April 11, 2010, when he checked the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators box score, after that his Internet activity ceased once again for a period of time.
He said at 5:37 a.m. April 11, 2010, Rebert began a search regarding an URL about the value of 1953 $2 bill, as well as information about the value of a 1902 U.S. Morgan Silver Dollar and 1935 Indian Head nickel. That Internet session concluded at 5:53 a.m. April 11, 2010.
Burkett asked Chelgren about Rebert’s search for news in the Brockway area, to which Chelgren said there were multiple ways in which to connect to news articles.
“You can type in a search for Brockway City and state or the zip code, 15824,” he said, or someone can use a direct link through a search engine such as Yahoo.com, which will take someone to a news article without having surf a news organization’s homepage.
Chelgren said about his review of Rebert’s computer usage at 4:40 a.m. April 14, 2010, he found the WTAJ-TV Web site, with the headline, “Community Worries After Couple Is Found Dead.” He then listed other dates and times regarding news articles Rebert searched for about the double-homicide in Brockway.
Following lunch, Ingros cross-examined Chelgren why he initially said the Brockway deaths could have been connected to a shooting in DuBois.
“This was an open-ended investigation, and I was not sure which way it would go in the beginning,” Chelgren replied.
Ingros then asked why he thought the deaths might somehow be connected to the Just for Jesus Challenge Outreach Center, also located in Snyder Township. Chelgren replied, “In the beginning, I thought it was a possibility that someone from the shelter might be involved, since it was a hot topic and spot in the Brockway area.”
Chelegren said he quickly dismissed that idea.
Ingros asked Chelgren why only a few of Rebert’s Internet entries were researched, when he could have looked at other searches by Rebert about different topics. Chelgren said there were consistent factors of news-searching that had changed following the murders.
“Rebert’s news searches skewed from Buffalo and other areas of New York state to the Brockway/DuBois area and Johnstown news,” he said. “The day I did the searches, those were the sites that came up.”
Ingros said that what Chelgren called a long period of no Internet activity from April 10, 2010, to April 11, 2010, would have been overnight, when Rebert could have been sleeping.
The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Monday at the Jefferson County Courthouse.