Testimony begins in Schuback trial

SCRANTON — Testifying for the prosecution in the homicide trial of Justin Schuback, Maria Baron repeatedly told the jury she didn’t believe her son Robert Baron Jr. was involved in the death of his father, Robert Baron Sr.

But when defense attorney Bernie Brown asked Maria Baron if she was sure her son didn’t have anything to do with the 2017 death of her husband, Maria Baron waffled.

“I hope to God it’s not true,” she said.

But Brown may have lost some ground with the jury when, after asking Baron if she suspected her son knew more than he was saying and if she had said so in a podcast, he directed his assistant to play an excerpt.

Instead of Maria Baron’s voice, jurors heard another voice alleging Robert Baron had been heavily involved in gambling.

Judge Terrence Nealon immediately cleared jurors from the courtroom. He scolded Brown, saying a basic requirement for using technology in his courtroom is knowing how to use it.

“This is a serious admonition,” Nealon told Brown, who apologized.

Nealon asked Brown if he knew which “Robert Baron” the podcaster was referring to. Brown said he believed it was Baron Sr.

When jurors reentered the courtroom, Nealon told them to disregard the part of the podcast they heard earlier. He said of technology: “It can be disastrous when it doesn’t work.”

During direct questioning by District Attorney Mark Powell, Maria Baron described her relationship with her husband before he disappeared as “very good.”

Maria Baron said even though the couple had been separated for six years and Baron Sr. lived above his restaurant, the two saw each other nearly every day and often went out to dinner and attended events with their three adult children, including Baron Jr.

She said Baron Jr. would help out at the restaurant about four times a week, often meeting his father in the morning to prepare for a 4 p.m. opening.

Because the business was “cash only,” Robert Baron Sr. often kept money on him and kept money at the shop, Maria Baron testified.

She said when she worked at the restaurant and needed more cash to make change for a customer, she would simply ask Baron Sr.

The evening of Baron’s disappearance, the two had eaten tacos, she said. At about 10 p.m., Baron Sr. headed back to the restaurant with tacos for Baron Jr. who was on shift.

She said when Baron Sr. left her house the night of his disappearance, he had cash on him.

“It was sticking out of his pocket and I told him to put it back in,” she said.

When Brown cross-examined Maria Baron, however, she admitted her husband had been preoccupied with Baron Jr.’s addiction.

Baron said she believed her son was using drugs at the time of her husband’s disappearance, because of some of the people he was spending time with.

“I felt he was,” she said.

When Brown asked Maria Baron if Baron Jr. had even stolen, she responded: “He has taken money.”

When asked who had keys to the building, Maria Baron said only Baron Sr., Baron Jr. and Mark Baron, her brother-in-law, had keys to the building.

If Maria Baron needed access to the restaurant and her husband wasn’t going to be there, she borrowed a key, she said.

The prosecution opened its case Tuesday morning detailing evidence against Schuback.

During questioning by Assistant District Attorney Sara Varela, Old Forge police officer Dave Kimble told the jury Maria Baron came to the police department at about 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 26 to report her husband Robert Baron Sr. missing.

Kimble said he immediately responded to Ghigiarelli’s Restaurant, the pizzeria Baron owned and where he was last seen.

Originally, he said, nothing seemed out of place. But, soon he spotted blood in areas around the restaurant and alerted Police Chief Jason Dubernas.

“There was something more,” he said.

The Old Forge police department soon sought the assistance of Taylor Police and Pennsylvania State Police crime scene investigators.

The prosecution alleges a conspicuous amount of blood found at the restaurant was the result of a fight between Schuback and Baron Sr., which ended in Baron’s death.

But on cross examination, defense attorney Bernie Brown asked Kimble if, before coming to the police station, Maria and her son Robert Baron Jr. had been to the restaurant. Kimble said he assumed they first went to the restaurant to see if Baron Sr. was there.

Brown asked Kimble if he remembered Baron Jr. saying, “If my dad’s dead, I’m going back on drugs.” Kimble said he did not.

During Monday’s opening statement, Brown asked the jury to consider other suspects in the brutal death, including Robert, Jr., who he said, was “in a mood” and about to be cut off by his father financially, because of his drug habit.

Brown asked Kimble if anything inside the restaurant indicated Schuback had been inside the eatery.

“Not that I’m aware,” Kimble responded.

Varela presented a series of photos documenting blood, hair and other evidence which law enforcement gathered after Robert Baron Sr. went missing on Jan. 25, 2017.

Police originally questioned Schuback and others. They also searched Pagnotti Park, near Schuback’s home on Foundry Street.

But, in spite of continued investigation, police did not find Baron’s body or make an arrest until March 2023 when Special Agent Michael Sabric of the FBI Cellular Analysis Team analyzed Schuback’s cellphone by using data collected in 2017.

The data put Schuback at the restaurant just before midnight on Jan. 25, 2017, before travelling to a specific area of Pagnotti Park, to his Foundry Street residence and then to the 100 block of Howard Street where Baron’s Hyundai Elantra was found days later.

Police say the cell phone analysis led them Baron’s remains in a specific area of Pagnotti Park.

On March 31, officers arrested Schuback at gunpoint. He was jailed at Lackawanna County Prison without bail.

Schuback faces six criminal charges, including first-, second- and third-degree murder.