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Singley could get death penalty

May 04, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson filed notice Tuesday that Michael Brandon Singley could face the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder in the killings of two people last November.

Singley, 22, of 1125 E. Brandon Drive, Chambersburg, is scheduled for mandatory arraignment today on two counts of criminal homicide in the deaths of Christine Rohrer and James Gilliam. He is also charged with two counts of attempted homicide and felony counts of criminal trespass and theft.

"It's not necessarily an irrevocable decision that this case will be a death penalty case," Nelson said after the notice of aggravating circumstances was filed with the Clerk of Courts Office. He said the notice had to be filed before the arraignment.

If Singley's case goes to trial and he is convicted of first-degree murder, the case could go to a penalty phase in which the jury decides if he will face death by lethal injection or life in prison.

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To seek the death penalty in Pennsylvania the prosecution must prove aggravating circumstances were present when the crime was committed.

Three aggravating circumstances were listed in the criminal homicide count for the death of Christine Rohrer. The notice said she was killed during the course of another felony, that another person's life was put at "grave risk" and it was committed during the course of another offense "for which a sentence of life imprisonment or death was imposable."

The same aggravating circumstances were listed in the count for Gilliam's death, along with a fourth. That alleges Gilliam "was a prosecution witness to a murder or other felony ... and was killed to prevent his testimony," according to the court document.

"We met with family members today, just to bring them up to date on what is happening," Nelson said.

Among them was Travis Rohrer, Christine Rohrer's husband and Singley's cousin. He was stabbed and shot the night his wife was killed.

Nelson also met with Deb Hock, the fiancee of James Gilliam. Police said shots were fired at Hock when Gilliam was shot.

"There's a lot of anger - anger about the crime and toward the defendant," said Assistant District Attorney Jill McCracken, who was at the meeting.

At 8 p.m. on Nov. 3, Chambersburg borough police were called to an Elder Street duplex for a reported shooting. When they arrived, they found Gilliam, 39, of 395 Elder St., dead of a gunshot to the chest outside his house.

Inside 391 Elder St., they found Christine Rohrer, 23, bound and stabbed to death in a bedroom. Travis Rohrer, 22, was seriously wounded.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, Rohrer told police he returned home and found Singley armed with a gun. Rohrer was ordered upstairs where he was attacked.

Later, as Gilliam and Hock arrived home, a man left the Rohrers' house, shot Gilliam, fired at Hock and drove off in the Rohrers' Jeep Cherokee.

The next day police found the Jeep near Singley's home. The house was surrounded and he was taken into custody without incident. Police recovered a .44-caliber revolver.

Earlier this year a defense psychiatrist found Singley competent to proceed with his case. Public Defender Robert J. Trambley said Tuesday Dr. Neal Blumberg is continuing to assist the defense.

McCracken said she expects Trambley and co-counsel Michael J. Toms to file "some sort of mental infirmity notice" in the case. Trambley would not comment on defense strategy.

"I would certainly advise my client about all options or possibilities that might take place," Trambley said about the notice.

During mandatory arraignments, defendants often plead not guilty and have their cases scheduled for trial. The next trial term begins in July.

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