Gurpreet Singh, accused of the 2019 West Chester Twp. killing of his wife and three family members, was back in court Tuesday for a pretrial hearing with his third defense team.
The new set of retained attorneys were told by the judge that next spring’s retrial date would go forward and prosecutors requested the judge review Singh’s contract with attorneys to assure there will be no request for public money.
“It seems that this defendant is indigent when it is convenient for him at taxpayers expense,” said Assistant Butler County Prosecutor Josh Muennich.
Cincinnati attorneys Mark Wieczorek and Alexandria Deardorff were retained by Singh in April to represent him in his retrial, which is set to begin in April 2024 in Butler County Common Pleas Court.
Wieczorek and Deardorff are replacing court-appointed attorneys David Washington, Jeremy Evans and Lawrence Hawkins III, who were appointed after the first trial ended in a hung jury in October 2022.
Singh, who faces the death penalty if convicted, remains housed in the Butler County Jail without bond.
In February, Judge Greg Howard set trial for April 29, 2024, and during Tuesday’s hearing, Howard said “that trial date will go forward.”
The judge also urged the defense attorneys to familiarize themselves with legal standards and training for defending in a capital case.
Singh’s new attorneys requested a second pretrial hearing on Aug. 1.
In October, after a three-week trial with nearly two weeks of testimony and 14 hours of deliberation, Howard declared a mistrial when the jury indicated it was hung and did not believe any further deliberations would serve a useful purpose.
After the mistrial, Singh’s retained attorneys from Rittgers and Rittgers law firm were permitted to withdraw from his case indicating Singh could no longer pay them. Howard then appointed Washington and Evans, who have specialized training in capital cases, to represent Singh.
Singh represented to the court he was indigent when seeking public funds for experts before his first trial after paying the defense team $250,000. Following the mistrial, he received court-appointed attorneys after indicating he remained indigent.
Muennich requested the court to require a contract between the new, paid attorneys and Singh to assure the money was in place to cover the cost of the trial.
“Obviously the current counsel is not doing this case pro bono. The state would be requesting the court review the contract between the defendant and his counsel to be sure there is adequate finances in place and we are not in a situation where privately retained counsel is petitioning the court for public funds,” Muennich said during the hearing.
Howard said if there is a request by the defense to declare Singh indigent and for public funds for experts, “be prepared to offer a contract and what arrangements have been made.”
Deardorff replied, “I would prefer to offer a response when appropriate. I don’t have anything to add today.”
The 40-year-old former truck driver 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.
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 team at the first trial 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.
But there was little evidence presented at trial by the defense to support that theory.