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Pa. jury begins deliberations in Singley trial

January 30, 2001

Pa. jury begins deliberations in Singley trial



By STACEY DANZUSO / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The jury charged with deciding whether Michael Singley should be sentenced to death or life in prison for killing his cousin's wife and her neighbor will resume deliberations at 9 a.m. today in the Franklin County Courthouse.

The jury began deliberating Tuesday afternoon, but after about an hour jurors asked if they could go home for the day.

"I think that is a wise move," said Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Douglas W. Herman at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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

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

Jurors heard closing arguments Tuesday morning from Assistant District Attorney Jill McCracken and Public Defender Robert Trambley, who, along with attorney Mike Toms, represents Singley.

McCracken in her closing statement said the Commonwealth had proved there were aggravating circumstances involved in the slayings.

In order to sentence Singley to death, the jury must unanimously agree that at least one aggravating circumstance was present for each murder.

McCracken contended the aggravating circumstances were: The murders were committed during the commission of a felony, Singley created a grave risk of harm to Hock, he tortured Christine Rohrer and the murders were committed in the same time frame.

She expressed doubt about Singley's mental illness defense.

"His family, Brook Lane (Medical Center) saw nothing of homicidal thinking. The only evidence of this is the defendant's own report that if he did horrible things he could kill himself," McCracken said. "There was no evidence of delusions before then."

She also attacked the Monday testimony of a psychiatrist and a psychologist who said that if Singley had been on medication he would not have committed the murders.

"While on his medicine, he had a fight in prison. I think it says the medicine isn't addressing the problem," she said. "The problem isn't psychosis or delusions. The problem is anger. It didn't seem to matter if he is on or off medicine, he is still having assaultive behavior."

A psychiatrist testified Monday that Singley had planned to kill his cousin and his wife to give himself the motivation to take his own life.

McCracken contended Tuesday that Singley's actions don't support his claim he was going to kill himself on the night of the murders.

He went to vote on the day of the murders and took Christine Rohrer's keys even before he attacked Travis Rohrer because he planned to flee.

"Don't get lost behind this mental illness defense stuff," she told the jury. "The Commonwealth asks you to remember as you deliberate who the real victims are. It's not Michael Singley, it's Christine Rohrer and James Gilliam. The only appropriate sentence is the death sentence."

Trambley said that three doctors, including the prosecution's, agreed Singley had a severe depressive disorder as well as cognitive problems at the time of the murder.

"We're not talking about an illness after the fact," he said.

Trambley pointed out that the prosecution never offered an alternate reason for the killings if Singley wasn't motivated by a desire to commit suicide.

"The only answer is what the doctors told you," Trambley said to the jury. "He had an emotional attachment with them and reasoned, 'If I do something so terrible to them, I won't be able to live with myself.'"

In deciding Singley's fate, jurors must also consider any circumstances the defense said were mitigating. If jurors agree with any of them, they must weigh them against any aggravated circumstances they believed the prosecution proved.

If even one juror believes the mitigating circumstances outweigh the aggravated ones, they must sentence Singley to life in prison.

The defense raised five factors it contended were mitigating, including: Singley has no history of prior convictions, he was under the influence of extreme mental and emotional disturbance, he had the capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct, his age, and anything else about his character the jury believes could be a mitigating circumstance.

"Who deserves the death penalty under Pennsylvania law? Does Mike deserve? Does anyone," Trambley asked the jury. "I argue to you Mike Singley does not deserve it. We should give the ultimate punishment to the Timothy McVeigh's of the world ... People who have no conscience about killing. People who feel no remorse at all.

"We don't need to add to a horrible crime by killing another person," Trambley said in closing.

Herman spent an hour instructing the jury on how to weigh evidence and testimony and the jury began deliberating at 3:15 p.m.

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