BROOKVILLE — A Punxsutawney man who served as the jury foreman in the Steven Rebert double-homicide trial, which concluded late Friday, said the jury became deadlocked while deliberating whether or not Rebert should be put to death.
Rebert was sentenced to life in prison by Jefferson County President Judge John H. Foradora, after the jury could not come to a consensus as to whether or not he should be put to death in the murders of Wayne and Victoria Shugar, both 61, Brockway, who were found shot to death in their home April 12, 2010.
Following Rebert’s sentencing, Eric Bishop, Punxsutawney, jury foreman, said the past two weeks he spent listening to to testimony for both the
guilt and penalty phases was quite a learning experience.
Bishop said one of the toughest aspects of the trial was not being able to speak to his family about any details when he came home at night.
"I told my family right from the beginning that I couldn't tell them anything, and they couldn't ask me anything about it when I would return home," Bishop said, adding that it was difficult to be involved with something as serious as a murder trial and not be able to discuss it with his family.
Bishop said no one on the jury had a problem with sentencing Rebert to the death penalty; however, four jurors who voted against a death sentence felt the mitigating evidence outweighed the aggravating evidence.
"I don't think anyone on the jury would've had a problem sentencing Rebert to death if they felt that was what he deserved," Bishop said. "I hope the guilty verdict gave the Shugar family some closure, even though they didn't receive the death sentence they had hoped for.”
Bishop said during the trial, he didn't notice much emotion from Rebert.
"Whenever I would look at him, he had his head down and was writing," Bishop said.
The trials’s closing arguments were handled by Jeff Burkett, district attorney, and Mike Marshall, the co-counsel for the defense team.
Burkett said the Shugar family has been forever hurt, for no reason.
"Victoria and Wayne had a lot of life left, cruises and fun to be had, a stage of life when they could enjoy things.
"They had arrived at the day when you don't have to focus on making a living and (you can) do the things you want to do," he said. "Their lives were taken with no justification; all these things were ended forever when Rebert took their lives.
"I ask you for a just verdict. I don't like saying it's just and right, and I know you have the ability to have the aggravators outweigh the mitigators," Burkett said. "You believe in the death penalty, and you must have the stomach to impose it."
Meanwhile, co-counsel Marshall said the verdict in the penalty portion has to come from one’s heart and gut, reminding the jury that Rebert does not have to die but can spend life in prison.
Marshall said reasonable doubt definitions are not an exact thing.
"What you decide will be with you always," he told the jury. "When you walk out that door, drive home, go to sleep, are you going to believe that you did the right thing?
“When you get the coffee ready, will you ask yourself again 'did I do the right thing?’” Marshall asked the jury.
"Will you be certain that your decision was based beyond a reasonable doubt, and when you walk out of the courthouse and go back to your life, will it nag at you, 'did I make the right decision?'
"Be very sure when you walk out that door. When you think about it and search your hearts, you'll find that death is not a just sentence in this case," Marshall said.
Both sides presented numerous experts regarding Rebert's mental state.
Marshall presented testimony from Dr. Jonathan Mack, a defense forensic psychologist, and Dr. John Liptman-PHD, Member of the Science of Biology (MSB) from Great Britain.
Burkett presented testimony from Dr. John O'Brien II, Philadelphia, forensic psychiatrist.
The jury deliberated the penalty phase of the Rebert trial for one hour and 50 minutes before it was declared a hung jury, with eight voting for the death penalty and four against.
The alternates were dismissed prior to the jury beginning its deliberations.