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Singley trial delayed

September 22, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Douglas W. Herman on Friday established a "cooling-off" period in the death penalty case of Michael Brandon Singley, ordering the penalty phase to be continued until the January trial term.

"The judge said a cooling-off period would be appropriate considering the extensive publicity" from a degree of guilt hearing held Tuesday, said Public Defender Robert J. Trambley, who is representing Singley with co-counsel Michael Toms.

Herman found Singley guilty of first-degree murder at the hearing in the Nov. 3, 1998, shooting of James Gilliam, 39, of Chambersburg. Singley, 24, of Chambersburg, had previously pleaded guilty on Aug. 15 to first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Christine Rohrer, 23, which occurred the same night.

The continuance was granted following a pre-trial conference Friday morning, said Trambley and District Attorney John F. Nelson. Jury selection was to have begun Monday, with the penalty phase set to begin Oct. 2.

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"There was no accusation of inflammatory or inaccurate reporting," Nelson said.

Tuesday's hearing, however, revealed details about the killings of Rohrer and Gilliam that had not previously been reported in the press.

"Normally, publicity occurs at the time of the incident, or arrest. In this case there were a lot of facts that came to light in this most recent proceeding," Nelson said of Tuesday's hearing.

Nelson said a pool of prospective jurors had been notified to appear in court Monday. Reading articles about the hearing "would have put this group of potential jurors on notice that they might serve on that jury," Nelson said.

"We recognize the interest of the families and their need and desire to get this resolved," Nelson said. He said his office did not join the defense in the motion for a continuance, but allowing the delay could prevent that issue from resurfacing in an appeal should a jury sentence Singley to die by lethal injection.

Because of the first-degree murder convictions against Singley, the only choice for the jury is whether Singley will get the death penalty or life in prison. He has also pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted murder, rape, theft and criminal trespass.

According to Chambersburg police records, Singley raped and stabbed Rohrer, the wife of his cousin, Travis Rohrer, at their Elder Street home. He then stabbed and shot Travis Rohrer, shot and killed Gilliam and fired at Gilliam's girlfriend, Deb Hock.

Gilliam and Hock were the Rohrers' next door neighbors and had just returned home when Singley fired at them, according to testimony at Tuesday's hearing. Travis Rohrer and Hock both testified at the degree of guilt hearing.

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