(Revised at 3:49 p.m.)
If the Chief Deputy Jerome Brewster -- who's been the lead investigator on the Bill Fickel murder for five years -- is going to make a case against "person of interest" Steven Patrick Rebert, it seems like he's got a lot of work ahead of him.
"In order to arrest someone, you need probable cause, you need more than a mere suspicion," Brewster said this morning. "Do we have probable cause at this point? Absolutely not."
Yesterday, in an interview with WBTA 1490, Brewster said there are some tantalizing coincidences that make Rebert a person of interest following his arrest on a double homicide charge in Jefferson County, Pa.
"There are some commonalities that would make a prudent person go, 'um, I wonder if this is something there we should be looking at,'" Brewster said.
Those commonalities might include (our own list, not from Chief Brewster):
- Rebert knew Fickel. They went to the same high school, but it is not known whether they attended it at the same time.
- The two men lived less than a mile apart in 2005 (Fickel on Burns Road, Rebert on East Shelby Road);
- Both Fickel and the homicide victims in Pennsylvania -- James and Victoria Shugar -- were shot to death;
- Pennsylvannia investigators say Rebert was doing computer searchs on the murders of the Shugars, Bill Fickel and Kevin Smith (Smith was killed in 2007 in Orleans County and Rebert is now considered a person of interest in that case as well).
- Fickel was killed with a 30-30 and Rebert reportedly told investigators in Pennsylvania that the only gun he owned was a 30-30;
- For the last five years of his life, Fickel worked as a cable installer with Time-Warner; at the time of his arrest, Rebert was a contractor for Zito Media installing fiber optics. There's no information that Rebert ever worked at TW.
- Both men enjoyed hunting.
Those commonalities are mostly coincidences that certainly don't tie Rebert to the Fickel murder. The two most intriguing coincidences are that Rebert knew Fickel and that Fickel was reportedly doing internet news searches on the Fickel murder.
Knowing somebody, however, isn't a crime, and Rebert could simply have been checking for an update on the death of somebody he knew (though reports indicate Rebert was pretty obessively seeking out news reports on the Shugar murders).
Coincidences, also, don't establish probable cause. There also needs to be evidence.
Such as the DNA found at the scene of the Fickel murder. It's DNA that doesn't match Fickel, and no match has ever been found in the national criminal database.
Pennsylvania State Police will likely obtain a sample of Rebert's DNA, and if it matches the sample Brewster has tagged as evidence, it would likely place Rebert at the scene the night of the murder.
But putting Rebert at the scene, Brewster was quick to point out, doesn't mean Rebert is the killer.
"A match itself is not probable cause," Brewster said. "Just putting you at the scene doesn't mean you where the one who pulled the trigger."
Brewster has long suspected there were two people at 5820 Burns Road when Bill Fickel walked out onto his driveway at 7:55 p.m., Nov. 10, 2005, because a flatbed truck had just arrived and Bill and Lisa thought somebody was there to look at a van they had for sale.
Finding just one of those two people, even if the person identified didn't pull the trigger, would be a big break in the case.
Brewster is naturally reluctant to discuss details of other evidence that might be used in building probable cause, but it's obvious that finding the murder weapon would also be a big break in the case.
Rebert was arrested in Genesee County on June 3 on a weapons charge (he was allegedly carrying a switchblade knife).
Last Friday, Rebert waived extradition back to Pennsylvania, where he was arrested and charged with charged with two counts of criminal homicide, two counts of aggravated assault and one count of burglary.
When he waived extradition, only a mind reader would know if he realized he was going to face murder charges. The waiver affidavit charged him only with manufacturing/delivery/possession of a controlled substance and a small amount of marijuana for personal use, though he had been questioned in the murder investigation on April 25.