Defense: Jurors must also consider prison, not only death
BROOKVILLE — While District Attorney Jeffrey Burkett told the jury that it was “just” in finding Steven P. Rebert guilty in the 2010 shooting deaths of Wayne and Victoria Shugar, defense attorney Michael Marshall asked the jury to also find a “just” verdict during the penalty phase Thursday.
“Again, render a just verdict, and choose not to put Steven to death,” he said.
He asked the jury to keep an open mind during the penalty phase, as it must determine whether to sentence Rebert, 46, formerly of Emporium, to death or life in prison without parole.
“I ask you to be true to your word, and to keep an open mind,” Marshall said. “I ask you to begin this phase without prejudice in favor of the death penalty. You must consider life in prison as well.”
• Rebert’s parents, Marilyn Rebert, of Batavia, N.Y., and Lawrence Rebert, Oakfield, N.Y., testified that their son — the youngest of six children, four boys and two girls — had a “normal” childhood, even in spite of his parents’ divorce in the early 1980s.
When Marshall asked why the couple separated, Lawrence Rebert replied, “I think the name for it was infidelity — on my part.”
Marilyn Rebert said her son attended college at Erie (N.Y.) Community College and Buffalo State University. After his parents divorced, he and his mother spent time bowling and taking tennis lessons.
Her son lived with her in an apartment for about three or four years, and she met another man named George, who did not live with Marilyn and her son.
When George wanted to retire to Florida, he and Marilyn moved there in 1991, while Rebert continued living in New York and working various jobs.
Marilyn and George returned to western New York in 2010 — not because of the situation Rebert was in, she said, but that it was “time to move back to be closer.”
She said she was unaware of her children using marijuana when they were growing up, and in later years, her son’s visits became more infrequent, and he would sometimes lose his temper during phone conversations.
“I had no idea Steven was taking drugs,” she said.
Lawrence Rebert described his youngest son as “no different than his brothers” and they enjoy hunting, fishing and camping.
He said while his son was working on cable installations, he didn’t see him much, although the two did meet in Chicago for a two-week hunting trip to Wyoming.
Lawrence Rebert recalled his son talking about crystal meth around 2001, and that his son lived with him about five or six years ago, around his 40th or 41st birthday.
But by 2005 or 2006, Steven Rebert “was a completely different person, in his actions. I suspected he was on drugs. He said he had it under control,” Lawrence Rebert said.
While undergoing some treatment by an orthopedic surgeon, Lawrence Rebert received his pain medication via the mail. When he told his son what the doctor prescribed, Rebert replied, “’Oh, Oxycontin.’ He knew right away what it was.”
After finding his mail-delivered box of Oxycontin ripped open, Lawrence Rebert said he threw away the medication.
When asked about alcoholism in the family, Lawrence Rebert said his grandfather had the occasional shot, “and my father more than made up for that.”
He said he himself has had a few experiences when he has had too much to drink, and has seen counselors twice in the last four years.
Both the Reberts said this ordeal has been devastating to their lives.
“I have a lot of memories of doing things with Steven — that’s all they’re gonna be, memories,” Lawrence Rebert said.
Upon leaving the witness stand, Marilyn Rebert spoke to the jury, saying, “Steven is a very important part of my life, and I hope he will still be here.”
Walking past the defense table where her son was seated, she whispered, “I love you, Steven.” He then wiped his eyes once she passed.
• Kathleen Higgins, of Columbus, Ga., testified that she met Rebert through her now ex-husband, Charles, in college.
Years later, around 1996 or 1997, Kathleen and Charles were no longer living together, and Charles kicked Rebert out of their living arrangements, she said. Rebert then rented a room from Higgins, and they eventually started an intimate relationship.
They lived in Fayetteville, N.C., and Columbus for Rebert’s job, while caring for Higgins’ daughter, who was three and the time and dealing with some physical anomalies.
“He was great with her,” Higgins said about Rebert and her daughter. “He would play with her, and when she couldn’t sleep, he taught her to make shadow puppets on the wall with her hands.”
He would also provide nice gifts for the child.
Higgins said she wanted to end the relationship with Rebert because his job required them to move a lot, and she didn’t want to remove her daughter from school.
When Burkett asked Higgins if Rebert had maintained contact with her, she said only through a few e-mails, and that he did not maintain contact with the child, now 19.
• Allen Hurd, of St. Petersburg, Fla., said he has known Rebert since childhood, and Thursday was the first time he had seen him in a number of years.
Hurd described how he and Rebert learned how to smoke marijuana around the same time, because “Back then, parents didn’t look for that behavior.”
When Hurd and his brother sought to begin working in the fiber optic/cable business, they recruited Rebert because they knew him from their youth and he had experience in he field.
He described work on the road in many areas during short periods of time was “kind of like living in a frat house,” with beer and marijuana in good supply.
While he was the supervisors of these crews, Hurd said he had a policy of “If I don’t see it, I don’t have to do anything about it.”
• Ronald “Joe” Dunkle, of Emporium, said he employed Rebert as a subcontractor for some Adelphia Cable work in the 1990s, and the two eventually became friends and worked together frequently.
He said he was aware that Rebert smoked marijuana, and that a relationship he witnessed between Rebert and Michelle Bright, who worked at the Shugars’ Flowers & More in Brockway, was nothing more than platonic.
• When asked by Marshall how he performs a search on a person’s criminal background, Trooper David Ray said he can use a statewide police system or a nationwide database that he described as “pretty accurate.”
Ray said he had performed a search on Rebert, and found that he had no prior criminal charges on his record.