Butler County prosecutor fires back on ruling in West Chester quadruple homicide case

Gmoser argues privately hired attorneys shouldn’t get public funds after taking everything a client has.

Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser has fired back an objection to last week’s opinion by a judge to permit public funds to be used for defense experts in the case of a man accused of killing four family members in West Chester Twp.

In September, Judge Greg Howard heard from the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office and Gurpreet Singh’s defense team on his request to declare Singh indigent.

Singh, 39, is charged with four counts of aggravated murder for the April 28, 2019 homicides. With specifications of using a firearm and killing two or more persons, Singh faces the death penalty if convicted.

Attorney Neal Schuett said Singh, a truck driver and father of two, has been in the Butler County Jail since he was arrested in August 2019 and unable to work. He said Singh has $270 in his bank account and no other assets.

Schuett said Singh had received money from relatives in India to hire the defense team, but “that well is now dry.”

The defense team, led by Charles H. and Charles M. Rittgers, asked for $50,000 to $60,000 from the state to hire expert witnesses throughout the trial, which is set to begin in 2022.

Assistant Butler County Prosecutor Josh Muennich said Singh has paid his defense team $250,000. He compared the firm to a Ferrari and now it wants the state to pay for gas.

Singh is accused of killing his wife, Shalinderjit Kaur, 39; his in-laws, Hakikat Singh Pannag, 59, and Parmjit Kaur, 62; and his aunt by marriage, Amarjit Kaur, 58, at their residence on Wyndtree Drive. All died of gunshot wounds.

The defense said the request for public funds does not pertain to attorney fees, but for investigation and experts only.

Prosecutors said, prior to his arrest Singh was employed as an owner-operator of a semi-tractor trailer, typically valued at $75,000 and $175,000, that he had at least one bank account with a balance of $75,052.31 and owned real estate in Indianapolis valued at $330,180.

In his decision, Howard said evidence received include a credit check on Singh stating he does not have any assets personally or through any of the corporations he once held. And Singh himself did not retain his defense counsel, a family member did.

While some of the family money has paid for experts, additional money is needed for experts to properly prepare for trial, Howard said. Singh family members are now tapped out.

Howard said he will consider specific requests filed by the defense for experts, but will not give the defense team a blank check.

Gmoser said the decision sets a precedent for allowing defense counsel to charge attorney fees that are equal to the defendant’s total assets then request public funds to pay for a mitigation expert, private investigators and forensic experts.

“It begs the question of whether or not any attorney hired privately should be questioned by the court in advance of doing any work if the representation is capable without taxpayer assistance,” Gmoser said in the objection. “The choice should be obvious that if a privately hired attorney takes everything a client has for the agreement of representation, the attorney should complete it or get off the case and return the money paid to the client.”

Gmoser said, based on a letter sent by defense counsel to the West Chester Police Department in 2019 prior to Singh’s indictment, they knew the nature of the case and “had every opportunity to reach a formal written agreement with the defendant.”

But despite that knowledge, Gmoser said, the defense has “apparently negotiated a fee agreement by email with a third party ... and has failed to formalize a written agreement with the defendant ...”

Gmoser said the defense has also failed to provide the court with any proof of where Singh’s assets have gone.

The Rittgers said they would be filed a response to Gmoser’s objection, but declined comment on Monday.

In his decision, Howard wrote, “At the hearing, defense counsel represented they expected they would need somewhere in the range of $50,000 to $60,000 for hiring experts. The court is unsure of where this number comes from and the court is not going to provide defense counsel with a blank check to hire whichever expert they think may be able to assist them in their representation of this defendant.”

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