Security costs high for Rebert trial
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
By Shannon Rollan
BROOKVILLE - For the past two weeks, the Jefferson County Courthouse has looked more like a maximum security prison than a public building. All of that security did not come cheaply.
During the double murder trial of Steven P. Rebert Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputies were required to guard Rebert in the courtroom, transport him to and from the Jefferson County Jail, guard against unauthorized items entering the courthouse and perform their regular duties as well.
People entering the courthouse during the trial had to walk past a sign stating that cameras and cell phones were not permitted in the Courthouse. That ban was enforced by Deputy Lee Wells who operated a scanner that could be calibrated to x-ray purses, and bags for any potentially harmful objects. Cell phones were commonly diverted to a series of shelves and tagged with a corresponding one given to the owner. When the owner departed the courthouse, the items were returned.
Visitors also had to pass through a metal detector, a practice that has been in place for several years. The detector beeps at people who have forgotten to place the contents of their pockets in the plastic dish provided by Deputy Wells.
Jefferson County Sheriff Carl Gotwald said the prohibition against cameras and cell phones was a directive from Judge John Foradora. "Mr. Rebert is presumed innocent until his found guilty," said the Sheriff. "A photo of him handcuffed or in a prison uniform might prejudice a jury against him. With so many cell phones having cameras in them, we had to confiscate them during the trial."
Rebert always appeared in court clad in a suit and tie during the trial.
Transporting Rebert to his trial was not an easy task either. Two deputies were detailed to move him even though he was shackled in the Sheriff's Department's car. Unloading at the courthouse required yet another deputy to move him through the building to the ground floor holding cell. These cells were retained during the recent courthouse remodeling. The entry to the cell block is guarded by two deputies. Deputies took Rebert to the main courtroom by elevator to avoid contact with the general public.
In the courtroom, no fewer than three deputies were posted around the defendant at all times. "During the trial we had to stay a few feet away from him," said the sheriff. "Again that was not give an impression to the jury that he was being guarded." Under ordinary proceedings seldom is more than one deputy required.
Even during bathroom breaks in the proceeding, the defendant was closely guarded to and from the rest room. A deputy would proceed him and clear the way and another would clasp his belt and guide him down the hallway.
The jury delivered a verdict of guilty late Friday night and the security became very tight immediately. "You never know how they (the convicted person) might react," said Gotwald. The deputies moved extra tables and chairs away from the defense table. "That was for our positioning," said Gotwald. "If you ( a deputy) gets hit in the side with a table you aren't going to be chasing after anybody."
With the deputies close at hand, Rebert heard he would be spending the rest of his life in prison. Following the sentencing, he was led out of the courtroom and back to the Jefferson County Jail to await transportation to a state correction institution.
During the trial the sheriff's department also had to perform the regular duties. "We had to transport prisoners from the Magistrate's Courts to the jail, operate the office and we even had to send two deputies to another state to retrieve a parole violator," said Gotwald. "It was a tall order for a small department."
Gotwald estimates the extra expense of the security for the Rebert trial was about $25,000.
"It shoots a pretty big hole in your budget," he said.
Fortunately, there were no incidents during the entire three weeks of jury selection and the actual trial.
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