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Psychiatrists testify Pa. killer was psychotic

January 29, 2001

Psychiatrists testify Pa. killer was psychotic



By STACEY DANZUSO / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Calling him "psychotic," psychiatrists testified Monday that Michael Singley formulated a plan to kill his cousin and his wife to give him the motivation to kill himself.

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In the fourth day of testimony in the death penalty case, the defense called Doctors Edward Yelinek, Lawrence Donner and Neil Blumberg to address Singley's mental state before the Nov. 3, 1998, murders of Christine Rohrer, 23, and James Gilliam, 39.

Singley, 24, 1126 E. Brandon Drive in Chambersburg, pleaded guilty in August to the stabbing death and rape of Christine Rohrer, 391 Elder St., and the fatal shooting of Gilliam, her next door neighbor.

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

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The jury will decide whether to sentence Singley to death or to life in prison. The prosecution must prove aggravating circumstances existed for the death penalty to be imposed.

Singley began suffering from depression in 1997, said Yelinek, a psychologist who saw him three times in November 1997. Singley's depression then lifted until August 1998.

He returned to Yelinek once in September 1998.

"He said very little. When asked questions his response would be one or two words," Yelinek said. "His behavior at the time was empty. He spoke of no joy in anything - work, school, his relationship with his girlfriend."

Yelinek referred Singley to a psychiatrist he never saw, but he did check himself into Brook Lane Medical Center in Hagerstown Oct. 22, 1998.

Singley was released from Brook Lane at his request Oct. 29, 1998, after five days of being on medication.

He stopped taking the antidepressant and skipped an appointment with a psychologist Nov. 3, 1998, and instead went shopping for the items he used to carry out the murders, according to testimony.

The doctors blamed his actions on major depression with psychotic elements and a cognitive disorder.

"He was acting under the crazy belief if he did something so horrible he would be able to kill himself," said Donner, a clinical psychologist. "It's crazy, insane, to think in order to kill yourself you have to give justification."

Donner conducted a battery of tests on Singley in December 1999, and determined Singley's brain functions were impaired and he suffered from a learning disability.

Both Donner and Blumberg, a psychiatrist, agree Singley suffers from a severe genetic mood disorder, identical to the one his father, two paternal aunts and his paternal great-grandfather have.

Despite the depression and four suicide attempts, Donner said Singley kept his feelings inside.

"Mr. Singley is humiliated by his mental disorders. He doesn't want people to know," Donner said.

After several failed suicide attempts, Singley decided the only way he would be able to go through with it would be to do something so horrible he would have to kill himself, Blumberg said.

He surmised that Singley was having doubts about his plan when he arrived at the Rohrers' apartment, so he raped Christine Rohrer first.

"I believe that when he got there he couldn't bring himself to kill her. The idea of doing something even more horrendous would motivate him to kill her," Blumberg said.

"After discharging so much anger, it leaves one spent. It left no energy to overcome the ambivalence of taking one's own life," Blumberg said.

Donner and Blumberg both said that had Singley been taking antidepressant and antipsychotic medications, he would not have committed the murders.

Since his incarceration, Singley has been taking medications on a fairly regular basis, at times refusing them, said Franklin County Prison Deputy Warden Carol Burns.

"He was mentally ill at the time he did this, but he knew what he was doing," Donner said. "In spite of being significantly impaired, he knew what he was doing was wrong."

Donner also classified the slayings as "aberrant," compared to Singley's previous behavior.

Burns testified that Singley has a record of misconduct charges stemming from five separate incidents in the last two years at the prison, including attacking other inmates and correctional officers.

The defense finished presenting its case Monday and both sides will make closing arguments at 9 a.m. today. Judge Douglas Herman will give the jury its instructions and they will begin deliberations later this morning.

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