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Singley denied retrial by judge

May 21, 2002|By STACEY DANZUSO

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A Franklin County judge has refused to grant a new trial to a Chambersburg, Pa., man facing the death penalty in the 1998 stabbing death of his cousin's wife.

In a 44-page opinion, Judge Douglas Herman denied Michael Brandon Singley's post-sentence motions for a new trial. His decision came Friday, nearly four months after hearing arguments in Franklin County Court from Singley's two new court-appointed attorneys that Singley's guilty plea should be withdrawn because it was not completely voluntary.

Singley, 25, was charged in the Nov. 3, 1998, stabbing death of his cousin's wife, Christine Rohrer, 23, and the shooting death of Rohrer's neighbor, James Gilliam, 39.

Singley pleaded guilty in August 2000 to both murders and to stabbing and shooting his cousin, Travis Rohrer, and attempting to shoot Gilliam's fiancee, Deb L. Hock.

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Singley has said he went to the Rohrers' duplex with the intent to murder them and then kill himself. He told police he raped and killed Christine Rohrer and waited for Travis Rohrer to come home, when he stabbed and shot him. As he left the home, he ran into Gilliam and Hock on the porch. He fired two shots, fatally wounding Gilliam but missing Hock.

In January 2001, a jury sentenced Singley to death for the murder of Christine Rohrer and life in prison for the murder of Gilliam. Herman sentenced him to an additional 46 to 94 years in prison for two counts of attempted homicide, rape, theft and criminal trespass.

Defense attorneys Clint Barkdoll and Jim Stein were not available for comment Monday.

The defense had asserted Singley's guilty plea should be withdrawn because trial counsel improperly induced it, and Singley did not personally complete the plea colloquy.

Singley testified at January's hearing that he was taking antidepressant, anti-psychotic and sleeping medication when he entered his guilty plea Aug. 16, 2000.

He said the medications may have prevented him from providing correct answers when filling out the guilty plea colloquy because he was so tired.

The defense also suggested trial counsel acted improperly because it did not move to suppress a confession Singley made to Chambersburg Police Detective Sgt. Dianne Kelso and did not present testimony from a mitigation expert initially retained, according to court records.

Defense attorneys also requested a new sentencing and penalty trial because trial counsel did not object to the state's use of evidence on the defendant's future dangerousness, the court erred in allowing the state to present victim impact testimony and because the jury's verdict was contrary to the weight and sufficiency of the evidence, court records show.

Herman determined in his written opinion that the arguments did not merit a new trial.

Singley has 30 days to appeal.

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