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Singley's family testifies at his sentencing trial

January 26, 2001

Singley's family testifies at his sentencing trial



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Diane Singley cried inconsolably on the witness stand Friday as she told a jury that her son, convicted double murderer Michael Singley, was an outgoing, lovable young man until deep depression took over his life.

A parade of family members and Michael Singley's girlfriend testified to Singley's status as a fun-loving, responsible family member as part of the defense's bid to keep him off death row.

Singley, 24, of 1126 E. Brandon Drive, pleaded guilty in August to the stabbing death and rape of Christine Rohrer, 23, of 391 Elder St., and the fatal shooting of James Gilliam, 39, her next door neighbor. The killings occurred on Nov. 3, 1998.

He also has pleaded guilty to stabbing and shooting his cousin and Rohrer's husband, Travis Rohrer, and attempting to shoot Gilliam's fiancee, Deb L. Hock of Chambersburg.

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An expert witness for the defense determined earlier that Singley was mentally competent to stand trial.

Friday was the third day of Singley's sentencing trial before Franklin County Judge Douglas W. Herman.

On Thursday, the final day of the state's case, medical experts testified about the brutal nature of Rohrer's death. Witnesses said she was stabbed at least 13 times and suffered a ragged slash that ran for 17 inches across her torso.

Rohrer was bound face, hand and foot with duct tape, according to testimony. The incident occurred in the Rohrers' home.

When Travis Rohrer came home Singley attacked him with the knife slitting him down the back and shooting him twice, in the arm and side, according to testimony.

Singley ran from the house and encountered Gilliam and Hock in the front yard of the duplex they shared with the Rohrers. Singly fired at both. Gilliam was killed and Hock was unhurt, according to testimony.

Defense witnesses Friday included Diane Singley, her husband Benjamin, son Matthew, Singley's girlfriend Lori Straley and the Singley family's pastor, The Rev. Charles Kind. All testified to Singley's normal state before his depression set in and the problems the illness created for him and his family.

Diane Singley testified that Michael and Benjamin suffered from depression simultaneously in 1998. Both had been treated at Brook Lane Health Services, a mental health treatment center in Washington County.

Singley said her son's depression started in 1997. "Before that he was a normal teenage boy who loved sports," she said. He participated in many family activities and was very close to Travis Rohrer, she said. "They were like brothers," she said.

"Michael stopped socializing in 1997. He slept a lot, gained weight, disappeared for days at a time and became suicidal," Singley testified under cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Jill McCracken.

Singley said Michael was sent to Brook Lane for a week in 1997 and again in 1998.

On the day of the murders Singley said she made Michael promise that he would stay on his medication and keep his 3 p.m. appointment with his psychiatrist, neither of which he did, according to testimony.

Her testimony was interrupted several times by her uncontrollable crying.

Several members of the defendant's family, who occupied much of the left side of the courtroom seating area, also cried during Diane Singley's testimony, as did several jurors.

Straley testified that she and Singley were engaged in January 1998. She said the main reason Singley failed to stay on his medication was because its side effects made him sexually dysfunctional.

None of the testimony heard Friday or on the first two days of the trial indicated a motive for Christine Rohrer's murder.

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Monday with testimony from three psychiatric experts who will testify for the defense on Singley's state of depression in 1997 and again in 1998 just before the murders.

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