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Torture alleged in Pa. slaying

June 05, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - One of the victims in a 1998 double homicide was tortured prior to her death, according to a motion filed Monday in Franklin County Court in the case against Michael Brandon Singley.

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"The commonwealth believes that the additional aggravating circumstance of killing by torture ... is applicable in this case," according to the motion Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson presented Monday to Court of Common Pleas Judge Douglas W. Herman.

Singley, 23, of 1126 E. Brandon Drive, is charged with two counts of criminal homicide in the deaths of Christine Rohrer, 23, of Elder St., and her next-door neighbor, James Gilliam, 39, on Nov. 3, 1998. He is also charged with the attempted murder of Rohrer's husband, Travis Rohrer, and Gilliam's girlfriend, Deb. L. Hock.

He was also charged with felony theft and criminal trespass, according to court records.

Under Pennsylvania law, a notice of aggravating circumstances must be filed to seek the death penalty. Before Singley was arraigned last year, Nelson filed notice alleging seven aggravating circumstances.

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The circumstances alleged by the prosecutor were that Rohrer and Gilliam were killed in the course of another felony; that Singley put others at "grave risk of death;" and that he committed another crime for which the penalty is death or life imprisonment.

In Gilliam's killing, the additional aggravating circumstance was that the victim was a potential witness in a criminal case, Nelson alleged.

As a result of DNA testing, Singley was charged in December 1999 with raping Rohrer. Since then, Nelson said, "We received some additional evidence I felt would make it appropriate to file the additional aggravating circumstance," Nelson said.

The motion said the evidence came through the discovery process and was received about the time of a closed pre-trial conference on April 7. Nelson declined to indicate the source of the evidence.

Public Defender Robert J. Trambley said the definition of torture has been defined by case law in Pennsylvania.

Case law on the subject said the prosecution has to prove that a defendant "had specific intent to inflict a considerable amount of pain and suffering on a victim, which is unnecessarily heinous, atrocious or cruel, manifesting exceptional depravity."

According to Chambersburg police records, Christine Rohrer was bound with duct tape, raped and stabbed to death in her bedroom. When Travis Rohrer returned home, he was stabbed and shot, but recovered from his injuries.

Gilliam was shot in the chest as he arrived home and Hock was fired at as a man left the Rohrer's home. Singley, Travis Rohrer's first cousin, was taken into custody the next day at his home, according to police.

Earlier this year the defense filed a notice of mental infirmity. Nelson filed a motion Monday to limit testimony of defense psychiatrist Dr. Neal Blumberg to the penalty phase of the trial if Singley is convicted.

"You cannot get a guilty but mentally ill verdict in a capital case," Trambley said Monday. He said Blumberg's testimony of his examinations of Singley would only be relevant at trial if his mental illness "so affected his cognitive processes that he could not form a specific intent to kill."

The defense has a week to file arguments challenging Nelson's motions, Trambley said. Singley's trial is scheduled for October.

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