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Gov. Rendell signs execution warrant for double murderer

February 16, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell earlier this week signed an execution warrant for Michael B. Singley, convicted in a 1998 double murder in Chambersburg, but it is unlikely he will die by lethal injection April 6.

"Based on Pennsylvania's track record, I don't think the odds are real great it will be carried out on that date," Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson said Wednesday.

Clinton Barkdoll, the attorney who represented Singley in his appeal to the state Supreme Court, also said it is unlikely the execution will be carried out any time soon.

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A jury sentenced Singley, now 29, to death in January 2001 for the Nov. 3, 1998, stabbing death of Christine Rohrer, 23, the wife of his cousin, Travis Rohrer, at the couple's Elder Street home. He also was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life for the shooting death of Rohrer's neighbor, 39-year-old James Gilliam.

Singley also was convicted of stabbing and shooting Travis Rohrer, who survived the attack, and for the attempted murder of Gilliam's companion, Deb Hock.

Singley pleaded guilty in 2000 to first-degree murder in Rohrer's death and to criminal homicide in the death of Gilliam. That was followed by a degree of guilt hearing before Franklin County Judge Douglas W. Herman, who found Singley guilty of first-degree murder in Gilliam's death, according to court records.

A penalty phase hearing for the killings was later held with a jury imposing the death penalty for Rohrer's murder after a week of testimony.

"It's hard to imagine an uglier scenario," Nelson said of the case. "There are mixed emotions about the death penalty ... If there's a case that would warrant it, this would be one."

Singley went to the Rohrers' home that night, bound Christine Rohrer with duct tape, then raped and stabbed her, according to Chambersburg police. When Travis Rohrer returned home later, Singley shot and stabbed his cousin.

As he was leaving the duplex, Gilliam and Hock arrived home and Singley shot Gilliam in the chest with a handgun, police said. He also fired at Hock, but missed, and she fell to the ground pretending to be dead, according to trial testimony.

In November 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a writ of certiorari to hear Singley's case, Nelson said. The writ was based on an assertion that the victim impact statements by Christine Rohrer's husband and family had violated his rights of due process, he said.

Barkdoll said Singley's death penalty was affirmed by the Supreme Court about a year ago, but "Mike still has federal appeals that are pending and he hasn't begun to pursue PCRA (Pennsylvania's Post-Conviction Relief Act) relief, which would typically be the final step once all the appeals are exhausted."

Barkdoll said he expects a federal public defender to soon file for a stay of execution. The appeals process, he said, could go on for years.

Since receiving the death penalty, Singley has been incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution Greene in Waynesburg, Pa., Barkdoll said. Death row inmates are isolated from the general population and remain in their cells all but one hour a day for exercise periods, he said.

Since the state reinstituted the death penalty three decades ago, Pennsylvania has carried out three executions, according to the Web site for the Death Penalty Information Center. The executions took place between 1995 and 1999, it stated.

Pennsylvania has 231 inmates on death row, according to center.

Albert Reid, convicted of the 1996 murders of his estranged wife and stepdaughter, is the only other person from Franklin County on death row, Nelson said.

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