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Singley claims mental illness in double-slaying case

April 03, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The defense for Michael Brandon Singley will argue he is mentally ill if the Chambersburg man goes on trial in June on charges he killed two people and tried to kill two others.

"It is not an insanity defense," Franklin County Public Defender Robert J. Trambley said Monday, shortly after the notice of mental infirmity was filed with the Clerk of Courts Office. "An insanity defense absolves you of guilt because you do not understand the nature of your actions."

The notice could allow a jury to find Singley guilty but mentally ill, Trambley said. He would not speculate on what effect that could have in a capital murder case.

"If we go to trial the notice has to be filed so the commonwealth has an opportunity to interview our witnesses," said Trambley, Singley's co-counsel with attorney Michael J. Toms.

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Singley, 23, of 1126 E. Brandon Drive, is charged with raping and stabbing to death Christine Rohrer, 23, at her Elder St. home on Nov. 3, 1998, according to court records. Chambersburg police also charged him with the shooting death of James Gilliam, 39, Rohrer's next door neighbor.

Rohrer's husband, Travis Rohrer, who is Singley's cousin, survived gunshot and stab wounds in the incident. Shots were fired at Gilliam's girlfriend, Deb L. Hock, but she was not struck, according to police.

Singley was taken into custody Nov. 4, 1998, and charged with two counts of criminal homicide, two counts of attempted homicide and one count each of criminal trespass and theft. Last September borough police charged him with raping Christine Rohrer.

The notice listed eight witnesses the defense could call if the case goes to trial, including five psychiatrists and psychologists, Singley's parents and a former girlfriend.

The list includes Dr. William G. Prescott of Brook Lane Health Services in Hagerstown and Dr. Edward J. Yelinek of Waynesboro, Pa. "Dr. Prescott treated him at one point and Dr. Yelinek treated him at one point" before the incident, Trambley said.

Trambley would not discuss what kind of treatment Singley had undergone or the nature of his mental illness. "We received a report from Dr. (Neil) Blumberg on which we based the filing of this notice," Trambley said.

Blumberg is the main defense psychiatrist, according to Trambley. Last year he issued a report determining that Singley was competent to stand trial.

Also on the list of witnesses is Dr. Richard Tenser of Hershey, Pa., who performed MRI and electroencephalogram tests on Singley, and Dr. Lawrence Donner, of Pikesville, Md., who did a psychological evaluation, Trambley said.

Trambley said Benjamin and Diane Singley could be called as witnesses to testify as to the mental health of their son. The witness list also included the name of a former girlfriend, who could not be reached for comment Monday.

District Attorney John F. Nelson last year filed a notice of aggravating circumstances, a necessary step in seeking the death penalty. Nelson could not be reached for comment Monday.

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