BUTLER COUNTY — After nearly two weeks of testimony, evidence presentations and two nights being sequestered, a jury in the trial of Gurpreet Singh told Butler County Common Pleas Judge Greg Howard they do not believe they can reach an agreeable verdict.
The jury told the judge this late Friday morning after prosecutors in the death penalty trial called for Howard to remove two jurors after a conflict between them apparently turned hostile during deliberations.
“A hung jury is never a desirable outcome in a criminal case,” Howard said in court Friday.
Immediately after the jury was dismissed, Howard scheduled a pre-trial hearing with the attorneys for Nov. 1. Prosecutors will retry Singh.
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.
“Obviously everybody wants finality. I am disappointed it was not a not guilty verdict, but it’s better than the alternative,” said Defense attorney Charlie Rittgers said.
He said there were some surprises for the defense during the trial, and “I don’t think there will be the second time.”
Gurinder Singh, son of victim Amarjit Kaur, sat through the entire trial. He said the family will not rest until Gurpreet Singh gets the death penalty.
“Very, very emotional for victims’ family members, but we keep fighting for justice,” he said. “Four innocent victims have to wait a little longer.”
Singh is still in custody and under indictment. He has been without bond in the Butler County Jail since his arrest in August 2019.
The dispute between the two jurors prompted one of them to send a note to Judge Howard late Thursday night saying she did not and would not continue with her duties. On Friday, Day 15 of the trial, the prosecution and defense argued the issue, with the defense pointing out at least one of the jurors should not be removed just because she has a dissenting view of the evidence from the other 11.
Howard declined to dismiss the jurors Friday morning, saying that through his questioning of all 12 jurors he determined they all have been able to deliberate and there was no juror misconduct. He did say there had been conflict but it did not stop all from considering the evidence.
During arguments of the juror issue, Rittgers said juror 83 is actually the victim in a deadlocked jury and the she is the one reading the “fine print” in the jury instructions properly.
Rittgers said when questioning the other jurors about the issue, they said most of the disagreement is based on the evidence. He said the juror should not be dismissed because the root is reasonable.
Assistant Prosecutor Josh Muennich said it was a matter of juror 111 creating an environment that impeded the deliberation process.
“This is not about people disagreeing over the evidence, this about juror misconduct,” Muennich said. He asked the jury not be held hostage by two jurors who are unwilling to perform their duties.
He added, “This is not a matter of juror 83 being a victim.”
The jury was sequestered in a hotel Wednesday night. Thursday evening the jury said it was deadlocked, but Howard asked the foreman if the jury could come to a verdict if they deliberated more. When told it was likely, he sent them back for more deliberations.
Earlier in the week, the prosecution rested Monday and the defense rested Wednesday after calling one witness, a blood spatter expert. Singh did not take the stand.
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.
During closing arguments that lasted about two hours, prosecutors pointed to a mass of circumstantial evidence that mounted up against Singh.
“Money, sex, murder — this case has it all.” said Assistant Prosecutor Josh Muennich.
“This is a story about someone who has a reason to hate that family,” Muennich told the jury during closing arguments. Money and other valuables were left in the apartment: “This was not a burglary or a robbery,” he said. “You can tell by the injuries that the person who did this hated them.”
Muennich said the murders came at a time when Singh’s marriage was unraveling, he was spending thousands on his mistress and he felt entitled to the money from land his father-in-law owned in India.
Hakikat, who was sleeping in his bed, was shot first, then Singh walked through the apartment from front to back, shooting his wife, his mother-in-law and aunt-in-law in the head, Muennich told the jury. All were shot from behind, the evidence shows, not from the front that would be consistent with an intruder entering and opening fire, Muennich said.
Then Singh lied to police about the his affair, his strained relationship with his father-in-law and never mentioned any armed intruders, Muennich said.
“One gun, 16 shell casings and 16 holes in people, Muennich sid. “There was only one shooter.”
The GPS from Singh’s car and cell phone puts him inside the apartment at 9:11 p.m. He did not call 911 until 29 minutes later and when he did, Singh told the dispatcher, “I just got home.”
There was a gun in the bedroom, but after allegedly finding his family murdered, Singh did not arm himself with that gun, Muennich noted.
“They were alive until he (Singh) got home,” Assistant Butler County Prosecutor Jon Marshall told the jury. Singh was in the apartment at 9:11 p.m., witnesses heard gun shots between 9:15 and 9:30 p.m. and Singh did not call 911 until 9:40 p.m.
In closings, Rittgers schooled the jury on reasonable doubt, stating the Ruger handgun used in the murders cannot be tied to Singh and there was no blood or DNA on Singh from three of the victims.
Rittgers said “absolutely” there was a land dispute that had been ongoing with people who had something to gain from Hakikat’s death.
The defense said of the more the 20 phones investigated, there was no mention of a plot to kill the family. Rittgers said Singh did delete messages from his mistress because he didn’t want his wife to find them.
“They are resting their case on the fact that Gurpreet was not completely open and honest with police,” Rittgers said.
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