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Experts testify in Singley case

January 25, 2001

Experts testify in Singley case



By STACEY DANZUSO / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Pathologists Thursday offered their opinions about which of more than a dozen stab wounds killed Christine Rohrer during the second day of testimony in Michael Singley's sentencing hearing for two 1998 murders.

The prosecution and defense each called a forensic pathologist during the hearing in Franklin County Court. The pathologists offered differing views on the exact cause of Christine Rohrer's death.

Singley, 24, of 1126 E. Brandon Drive, has pleaded guilty to the stabbing death and rape of Rohrer, 23, of 391 Elder St., and the fatal shooting of James Gilliam, 39, her next door neighbor on Nov. 3, 1998. He also has pleaded guilty to stabbing and shooting his cousin and Rohrer's husband, Travis Rohrer, and with attempting to shoot Gilliam's fiancee, Deb L. Hock of Chambersburg.

A jury will decide whether to sentence Singley to death or life in prison. The prosecution must prove aggravated circumstances existed in order to impose the death penalty.

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Dr. Sarah Funke, a forensic pathologist in Allentown, Pa., conducted autopsies of Christine Rohrer and Gilliam the day after their deaths.

She outlined Christine Rohrer's injuries, including seven stab wounds to her left lung, four stab wounds in her neck, two to her heart and a ragged wound five inches across her chest and 12 inches down her abdomen from a knife.

Funke said she could not differentiate the wounds to determine which one would cause death.

"The lung has a minimum of six separate stab wounds. The knife went in and out a minimum of six times. Another stab wound to the lower part of the lung, for a total of seven, came from the side," she said.

Funke said there was about a liter of blood in the chest cavity at the time of the autopsy and there was no blood in Christine Rohrer's heart. She said that indicated the heart was beating while Rohrer was being stabbed.

"She was alive when this series of injuries started," she said.

The severing of the coronary arteries in the heart would have brought on death within minutes, Funke said, but she could not say if the lung stab wounds came before or after those to the heart.

She did determine the neck wounds occurred as Christine Rohrer was dying or after death.

Funke said there was no evidence that indicated she was strangled or smothered and attributed hemorrhages on her eyelids to straining against the duct tape that was placed across her face.

Her ultimate assessment was that Christine Rohrer died of stab wounds to the chest and neck.

Defense's pathologist, Dr. Neil Hoffman, a forensic pathologist from Reading, Pa., said the puncture wound to Rohrer's lung through her side, coupled with asphyxiation from the duct tape, killed her. He said the stab wounds to her chest and neck occurred after she was dead.

Hoffman based his conclusions solely on Funke's autopsy report.

He testified that Christine Rohrer would have lost consciousness shortly after the tape was applied to her head.

He said a lack of bruising from a struggle and no evidence of blood spurting from the chest wound indicated she was dead before Singley cut her chest and stabbed her neck.

"The body was definitely unconscious at the time of the injuries to the chest and the neck," he said. "Scene photos show no evidence of spurting blood coming out of the wound."

Funke had said their were no signs of struggle because of the way Christine Rohrer was bound with duct tape on her arms and legs.

The differing testimony is important because the prosecution set out to show that torture was an aggravated circumstance in Christine Rohrer's death.

Funke, who also conducted the autopsy on Gilliam, said he died of a single gunshot wound to the chest.

"That produced massive internal bleeding that would have resulted in death in a minute or so," she said.

Gilliam, who lived next door to the Rohrers, was shot as he and Hock were returning home.

Before the prosecution wrapped up its case Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Jill McCracken called several family members, as well as Travis Rohrer and Hock, to tell the jury about the aftereffects of the murders.

Bradley Beckner, one of Christine Rohrer's five older brothers and sisters, talked about how her death has stripped his family of its security and happiness.

Through tears, he related stories of how her 11 nieces and nephews did not understand her death, one suggesting recently that after the current proceedings end Christine Rohrer would return.

Barbara Beckner, Christine Rohrer's mother, talked about how she is in fear all the time and unable to be happy.

"I've felt I could smile, but my eyes wouldn't smile," she said. "I won't watch any television that has murders. I won't watch soaps any more because that's what Christine and I would talk about."

Travis Rohrer, who testified about his injuries Wednesday, was recalled to the stand Thursday to talk about the plans he and his wife had.

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