BROOKVILLE — Despite two days of testimony, a jury responsible for determining the fate of convicted murderer Steven P. Rebert could not decide: The death penalty or life in prison without parole.
Because a jury’s decision for the death penalty must be unanimous, Judge John Foradora sentenced Rebert to four consecutive life sentences instead.
After hearing the closing arguments for the penalty phase, the jury then had to decide how to punish Rebert, found guilty Tuesday in the double-homicide of Wayne and Victoria Shugars April 10, 2010.
The jury returned after an hour-and-a-half of deliberations, unable to come to a unanimous verdict regarding the death penalty.
Foradora advised the jury that he would answer any questions and advise jurors on how to proceed so they could come to a unanimous verdict on the penalty phase.
But, after another 20 minutes of deliberations, the jury returned with jury foreman Eric Bishop, of Punxsy, saying everyone on the panel was 100 percent committed to its vote: Eight jurors wanted to sentence Rebert to death, while the remaining four jurors wanted to give him a life sentence.
Foradora thanked the jury for its duty over the last two weeks.
In Pennsylvania, only a jury can sentence a defendant to death, so the sentencing reverted back to Foradora.
Foradora then recessed, and court resumed for sentencing.
When asked by Foradora if he had anything to say, Rebert replied, “No, sir.”
Foradora said he can’t help to think back when he was a law intern in the public defender’s office in 1988 and the different trials with which he assisted.
He refreshed everyone — including the Shugar and Rebert families — about some of the other death penalty cases that he’s participated in or sat on the bench, including Robert Rega and the murder of the Gateway Lodge night watchman Christopher Lauth.
Foradora said the only reason the Shugars were murdered was because they were guilty of being too nice.
“The jury only had the DNA evidence of Wayne Shugar’s blood that was found on the bottom of Rebert’s boot,” Foradora said, adding that no matter what Rebert said, there was no reason to kill them.
“Not only did you change the life of the Shugars family, but also the people who live in our area,” he told Rebert. “People in our area now lock their doors who didn’t before, and now carry firearms because they live in fear of the same thing happening to them that happened to Wayne and Vicky.
“Steven, you’re the one person who didn’t change throughout this investigation and trial,” Foradora said, adding that many observers said Rebert didn’t look like a killer — he looked like one of the attorneys.
“I heard that your dad moved his trailer up here so he could be closer to your work, and that you grew up hunting and fishing,” Foradora said. “As a hunter, you knew what it was like to stalk an animal, and how warped your mind is that you had just enough training, that’s what you decided to do to them.”
Foradora said Rebert went to Coal Tipple Road March 3, 2010, to do just that: Begin to stalk his prey.
“I don’t think you’ll ever get to sort this out. You wanted to make enough of an example March 3 to see if these country folks would call the police on you,” Foradora said. “Much the way that you waited until daylight turned to dusk April 10, and you traveled from Sheetz to Sheetz, buying lottery tickets and killing time until you were going to the Shugars’ house to kill them.”
Foradora told Rebert that one thing he’ll never see again is an outside wall, as Foradora sentenced him to four consecutive life sentences with no chance for parole, which he said was the only appropriate sentence for the crime.
He also sentenced him to additional life terms for second-degree murder, aggravated assault and 10 to 20 years in prison of burglary committed in the course of the homicide.
“One other thing: You should feel terrible for putting your mother through this kind of a situation,” Foradora told Rebert.
Rebert — officially a convicted killer who will spend the rest of his life in prison — was then led away in restraints to the Jefferson County jail by sheriff’s deputies to prepare for his trip to a state correctional institution.