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Singley receives death penalty

January 31, 2001|By STACEY DANZUSO

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - After more than nine hours of deliberation, a Franklin County jury Wednesday sentenced Michael Brandon Singley to death for the 1998 murder of his cousin's wife.

Franklin County Court of Common Please Judge Douglas W. Herman read the jury's decision that Singley, 24, be sentenced to death for the Nov. 3, 1998, murder of Christine Rohrer, 23, his cousin Travis Rohrer's wife.

The jury also sentenced Singley to life in prison for the shooting death of James Gilliam, 39, the Rohrers' neighbor on Elder Street.

Singley, dressed in khaki pants and a green shirt, remained expressionless and stared toward the front of the courtroom as Herman read the sentence and polled the jury.

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His mother, Diane Singley, and girlfriend, Lori Straley, wiped away tears. There was silence in the courtroom, which was filled with about 40 family members and friends.

Testimony in the penalty phase of the court proceedings began Jan. 24, and continued through Monday. After listening to closing arguments and the judge's instructions, the jury began deliberating Tuesday afternoon, but broke off after about an hour.

The jury resumed discussions Wednesday morning, and stopped only once to ask to review some of the evidence.

The jurors remained in a deliberation room on the third floor of the Franklin County Courthouse until early evening, when they sent word they had a verdict.

Singley pleaded guilty in August 2000 to first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Christine Rohrer at her 391 Elder St. home. He pleaded guilty to general murder in the death of Gilliam, who was shot as he returned to his 395 Elder St. home. Herman in September 2000 found that Gilliam's death was first-degree murder.

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

Singley has said he went to the Rohrer's duplex with the intent to murder them and then kill himself. He raped and killed Christine Rohrer and waited for Travis Rohrer to come home from school, when he stabbed and shot him.

As he left the home he ran into Gilliam and Hock, who were returning to their home. He fired two shots, fatally wounding Gilliam but missing Hock.

Singley's attorneys, Public Defender Robert Trambley and Mike Toms, had no comment after the decision was read.

Family members also declined comment.

The jury found that several mitigating circumstances existed in the death of Christine Rohrer, including Singley's lack of a criminal record, the presence of an extreme mental or emotional condition, his age and other unspecified evidence.

But the jury determined those conditions did not outweigh the aggravated circumstance that existed.

The jury unanimously agreed that the commonwealth proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder was committed during the commission of a felony: Singley tortured Christine Rohrer and committed the killings at the same time or in the same time frame.

"The jury has found the aggravated circumstance outweigh the mitigating circumstances and the verdict is death," Herman read.

In the case of Gilliam, the jury agreed the same mitigating circumstances existed, as well as a fifth one, that he had the capacity to appreciate the criminality of his actions.

But on that count, the jury found those conditions outweighed the aggravated circumstance and sentenced him to life in prison.

A date for formal sentencing will be set, at which time the judge also will impose sentences on the charges of two counts of attempted murder, and one count each of rape, criminal trespass and theft.

The four days of testimony included tearful accounts from the witness stand by members of the families of both victims and Singley.

Testimony included detailed opinions from pathologists and psychiatrists as well graphic photos of Christine Rohrer bound in duct tape, and with more than a dozen stab wounds in her neck and chest.

Assistant District Attorney Jill McCracken focused much of the prosecution's case on the extent of Christine Rohrer's injuries and on whether she was still alive when Singley cut a 5-inch by 12-inch incision in her chest and stabbed her twice in the heart.

The defense focused on Singley's mental state, including a diagnosis of major depression with psychotic elements and cognitive disorders.

Singley has said he intended to kill Christine and Travis Rohrer and then himself.

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

Singley has never explained why he did not follow through with the suicide plan or why he went to his 1126 E. Brandon Drive home, where Chambersburg Police Detective Dianne Kelso talked him into turning himself into police the day after the murders.

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