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Convicted double-murderer receives stay of execution

March 07, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

Convicted double-murderer Michael Singley was granted a stay of execution Friday by U.S. Middle District Court Judge John E. Jones III.

Singley, who is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection April 6, is on death row for the Nov. 3, 1998, rape and murder of Christine Rohrer, 23, at her Elder Street home.

"Not only is it not unexpected, it's virtually automatic upon the initial request for counsel," Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson said of the stay.

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The judge's order gives Singley and his legal counsel 180 days to file a writ of habeas corpus, essentially a petition for the court to hear evidence in his case. The attorney handling Singley's case was unavailable Monday.

Nelson said he had been contacted by an attorney with the Middle District's Federal Public Defender Office before the stay was granted.

"I did not oppose it, because it would have been fruitless," Nelson said. When Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell signed Singley's execution warrant earlier this year, Nelson said the appeals process likely would go on for years.

According to Jones' court order, Singley filed a motion March 2 for the appointment of a federal habeas corpus counsel and stay of execution.

"Once a death row defendant files a motion requesting the appointment of counsel ... he is automatically entitled to the relief requested," Jones wrote. If the stay had not been granted, an attorney for Singley would "lack sufficient time to familiarize herself with the voluminous state court record and other applicable material in order to prepare an appropriate habeas petition in this action," Jones wrote.

"We are not unmindful that Petitioner's underlying conviction involves the murder of more than one individual," Jones wrote.

Singley pleaded guilty in 2000 in Franklin County Court to first-degree murder in Rohrer's death. He also pleaded guilty to criminal homicide in the death of Rohrer's next door neighbor, James Gilliam, 39, and was found to have committed first-degree murder in his death.

Singley also was convicted of the attempted murder of Rohrer's husband, Travis, and the attempted murder of Gilliam's companion, Deb Hock, according to court records.

Though he entered plea agreements in the case, a jury sentenced Singley to death Jan. 31, 2001, following a weeklong penalty phase hearing. Along with the death sentence for Rohrer's murder, Singley received a life sentence for the murder of Gilliam and more than 90 years for the other crimes for which he was convicted.

Chambersburg police arrested Singley at his home the day after the killings. Police said he went to the Rohrers' home, bound Christine Rohrer with duct tape and raped and stabbed her.

Singley then shot and stabbed his cousin, Travis Rohrer, when he returned home, police said. As Singley left the house, Gilliam and Hock were arriving home and Singley shot Gilliam in the chest and fired at Hock, police said.

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