Chief justice to consider prosecutor’s claim of bias in West Chester quadruple homicide case

County prosecutor says judge mishandled jury, is lax in courtroom decorum and made crude jokes.

An affidavit filed by Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser accusing a Butler County Common Pleas judge of bias for the handling of a death penalty trial that ended in a hung jury has been accepted by the Ohio Supreme Court.

And until the chief justice makes a ruling, Judge Greg Howard is prohibited from presiding over any further hearings in the Gurpreet Singh case, according to a motion filed Monday by Chief Justice Maureen O’Conner.

On Nov. 1, during a hearing in the quadruple West Chester Twp. homicide, Gmoser asked Howard to recuse himself from the retrial. Howard declined and Gmoser filed a request of disqualification with the high court.

Howard will have 21 days to respond to the disqualification affidavit, then O’Conner will “review the matter and render a written decision on the affidavit,” according to the court document.

The pause may not affect moving the case forward to a second trial because Howard did not schedule the next hearing until Jan. 11.

Last month, after a three-week trial with nearly two weeks of testimony and 14 hours of deliberation, Howard declared a mistrial in Singh’s trial when the jury indicated it was hung and did not believe any further deliberations would serve a useful purpose. The 40-year-old is accused in the 2019 killing of four of his family members.

Gmoser found fault with Howard’s decision over replacing jurors and a transcript requested from the deliberating jury. In the affidavit filed last week, Gmoser also said said Howard’s “qualifying bias is manifest in his making demeaning sexual jokes in chambers and failing to conduct the trial with proper courtroom decorum in a capital case.”

Gmoser also alleges Howard failed to preserve the record for appeal of possible juror misconduct and demeaned the seriousness of the case by not maintaining proper courtroom decorum.

Singh was permitted to “snack” in the courtroom like he was picnicking during the trial, Gmoser said.

Gmoser said Howard should have removed feuding jurors that resulted in a hung jury.

Howard declined to replace jurors with alternates knowing two jurors were at odds and not deliberating, the prosecutor said. Gmoser also found fault with Howard’s decision not to give the jury a requested transcript of a DNA expert, but instructed them to rely on their “collective memories” of that testimony.

At the Nov. 1 hearing, Howard did not recuse himself, saying he does not feel he had or has bias.

“I’m not here to make people happy, I am here to follow the law,” Howard said. “I will not be recusing myself from this case.”

In the lengthy affidavit, Gmoser cites more issues.

On Oct. 6, there was no recording of possible juror misconduct at an unrecorded chambers conference in which “the judge stated that the bailiff had admonished one juror he observed at a nearby restaurant at lunch time looking for a newspaper to read. Additionally, the bailiff reported that this same juror was trying to “discuss” the case with other jurors in violation of instructions,” Gmoser said in the filing.

After “minimal” discussion, Howard said he would re-instruct jurors on the issues.

“No record was made of this possible juror misconduct. Instead, the judge without explanation, reminded the jury of the instruction on these issues,” Gmoser said in the filing. He added other “critical” matters were not put on the record, including verbal communication from a juror to the bailiff about “bullying” and Howard’s “angry words” to prosecutors when he was questioned about his denial of the transcript request from the jury.

Gmoser said in the affidavit that Howard made crude jokes in chambers in “mixed” company that were sexual in nature about body piercing and a former attorney’s serial incidents of public indecency.

According to Gmoser, Howard also demeaned the case by not maintaining proper courtroom decorum.

“(Singh), a capital defendant, was permitted to snack in the courtroom while completely unrestrained (and within inches of prosecutors) and casually walk between counsel tables during breaks as if he were at a picnic,” Gmoser said in the filing.

Gmoser claimed that the press twice broadcast a video or photos of the jury members, and the courtroom door to a hallway leading to the jury room was frequently left open.

Howard did not respond to a request for comment.

Singh is charged with four counts of aggravated murder for allegedly shooting and killing his wife Shalinderjit Kaur, 39; his in-laws, Hakikat Singh Pannag, 59, and Parmjit Kaur, 62; and his aunt-in-law, Amarjit Kaur, 58, at a West Chester Twp. apartment on April 28, 2019. He faces the death penalty if found guilty.

Attorneys David Washington and Jeremy Evans, Singh’s new defense team, were back in court last week for a pre-trial and will return in January where a new trial date may be set. They are court-appointed after Singh’s regained attorneys withdrew from the case because he can no longer pay them.

ExploreHung jury: After three weeks of trial, no verdict in West Chester quadruple homicide case

Prosecutors said Singh murdered his family by shooting them all in the head after a longtime affair he was having and a strained relationship with his in-laws over money from land owned in India.

The defense said Singh is innocent and the killings were part of a professional hit due to Pannag’s financial woes and a dubious land contract deal in India with the “land mafia.” They say three masked men broke into the apartment with baseball bats and Singh ran for his life. When he returned, everyone was dead.

Read more about the mistrial and Singh’s case at

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