DA: The blood cries out for guilty verdict; jury hears it
BROOKVILLE — In his closing statement of Steven P. Rebert’s double murder trial Tuesday, District Attorney Jeffery Burkett invoked the voice of one of the victims, Wayne Shugar, and asked that the jury hear that voice, as well.
“The blood of Wayne Shugar cries out in this courtroom,” Burkett said, citing evidence that showed four spots of Shugar’s blood on the bottom of Rebert’s work boots.
“Your DNA is the content of your person: It’s responsible for your eye color, your personality, your height,” he said.
“The embodiment of Wayne Shugar cries out from the four spots on Steven Rebert’s boots: ‘Guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty.’ That’s what that blood says,” Burkett said.
After just under two hours of deliberation Tuesday, the jury apparently heard the voice of Wayne Shugar and found Rebert, 46, formerly of Emporium, guilty of two counts each of criminal homicide and aggravated assault; burglary; robbery; and theft by unlawful taking in the deaths of Shugar and his wife, Victoria, April 10, 2010, in their Snyder Township home, near Brockway.
A penalty phase to determined whether Rebert will spend life in prison or be shipped to death row will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday.
“The defense’s argument was backed by zero evidence. The defense wants to focus on one piece of evidence, but you need to include all the evidence in light of each other. It’s different if you take a look at the whole picture, and it’s all pointing right at that man,” said Burkett, pointing at Rebert, who was seated at the defense table. “No one else.”
Burkett said the prosecution cites Rebert as four men in one:
• The man scoping out the crime scene — “Everything you expect a killer to do, he did,” Burkett said.
He said Rebert showed interest in the Shugars’ Coal Tipple Road residence March 3, despite being 44 miles from home and having worked on fiber optic lines with Justin Modeas just a few weeks before.
“The final day (of work), Sunday, Feb. 14: You can picture Steven Rebert working with Justin Modeas, and he glances at the nice house, with the Flowers & More van parked in the driveway,” Burkett said, referring to the Shugar’s flower shop in Brockway.
“That’s where Michelle (Bright) works,” he said, referring to Vicky’s former employee and a friend of Rebert. “This must be destiny.”
March 3, Rebert had no reason to be on Coal Tipple Road, because as Modeas testified, invoices show that the fiber optic work had been completed.
He said Modeas also testified that when working with Rebert, Rebert did not drive. But when Rebert told Modeas that the police would probably want to talk to him about the work on Coal Tipple Road, he told him, “’Tell them I drove.’
“So he told him to lie — another thing you would expect a killer to do, because he needed a legitimate reason to be there,” he said.
Burkett also said Rebert was “messing with police” in their questioning about Coal Tipple Road, going so far as to pretend he didn’t know about the road — calling it “Coal Triple” — despite having worked along that road for a few weeks.
When speaking with police, he did not mention anything about the Shugars, the flower shop of Bright, but evidence and testimony showed that Rebert had visited Flowers & More on four occasions — one time to buy flowers from Vicky, only to then present them to Bright.
“He found a good reason not to talk about Michelle Bright,” Burkett said. “It connected him to the victim.”
• The man in the video — When asked specifically by police if he had been in Brockway the night of April 10, 2010, Rebert said no. When asked if he was positive about that, he said he was.
When describing the Sheetz video footage, however, Rebert shut down, saying things like, “Lots of people have cars like mine,” and, “I must have a twin.”
Burkett said Rebert also told Lee, “’I would like a chance to defend myself,’ because he wanted to tell police he wasn’t guilty of murder.”
Rebert suggested the Brockway footage was actually from St. Marys, Burkett said. But when told it was indeed from Brockway, Rebert replied, “’Well, I guess I was there.’”
Burkett said said the Sheetz video showed Rebert buying gas, cleaning his windows — and buying time until it became dark.
“He was checking on his pot at 8:15 at night? Forty-four miles away (from his home)?” Burkett said.
“I’ve got to give the defense an A for creativity, but there’s no evidence behind that pot thing,” Burkett said.
• The man who knew too much — Burkett said investigations on Rebert’s computer showed a “major shift” in how he acquired his news, previously seeking Buffalo, N.Y., markets before “looking to the market that carries our news, which strongly suggests that Steven Rebert was looking for specific information about this murder before the bodies were discovered.”
Citing testimony by PSP Sgt. Thomas Chelgren, Burkett said Rebert’s two Web searches were on Pittsburgh Live and Yahoo! — April 11 and April 12, 2010.
“Enough time went by, and he wanted to see if some bodies had been discovered,” Burkett said. “He wanted to know. He is trolling for news of this 14 hours before the discovery of the bodies.”
His searched for Brockway news yielded no results, Burkett said — until the Shugars’ bodies were found, adding, “Guess who’s reading everything he can find? Can you say that was a coincidence?”
By April 14, 2010, Rebert was regularly seeking articles about the Brockway homicides, which named the victims and their address.
Earlier in his statement, Burkett also discussed Rebert’s sudden Web searches for the value of rare an collectible coins, such as a 1902 U.S. Morgan Silver Dollar; a 1935 U.S. Indian Head Nickel; a 1921 Morgan Silver Dollar; and more.
“It’s not like Mr. Rebert was just looking at coins; ‘I’m interested in coins this morning at 5:37 a.m.,’” Burkett said.
Burkett also cited the Shugars’ habit at home: Vicky would get comfortable in her pajamas, and Wayne had his Sunday habits that ran “like clockwork. He would come down, fire up the coffee pot and read the newspaper.”
He also described how the couple’s newspaper carrier was surprised to find that Monday, their Sunday newspaper was still in the box.
“He never read it,” Burkett said. “He never had a chance to.”
Also, Burkett discussed perhaps the most damaging evidence: Wayne Shugar’s blood on Rebert’s boots.
“This was treated as it it was nothing by the defense,” he said, “and that blood is on his boots.”
Serologist Micah Kelley received samples of the Shugars’ blood April 13 in Erie and discarded it April 29. But when Rebert's boots were seized May 9 and sent to the lab May 13, Kelly found something.
“Rebert thought he had left that crime scene without trailing blood, that he didn’t pick up any blood,” Burkett said. “He thought he covered that trail, but Micah found it.”
Finally, Burkett said the jury heard many suggestions by the defense — “mostly which are completely absurd.”
Referring to the defenses suggestion that someone else DNA could be found on Rebert’s boots, Burkett said, “Do you really think someone else put the blood on the boots? That someone stile his boots, took the boots, trooped around the crime scene, and then put them back? Really? That’s preposterous.
“That’s what happens when you have no explanation for damaging evidence,” he said. “When all you have is a hammer, everything comes down. There is no basis — only speculation from the defense.
“Steven P. Rebert committed these crimes,” Burkett said. “You can have confidence in it.”