Prosecutor responds again to tax dollars funding experts in pending capital case

A Butler County judge’s decision in the case of a man accused of shooting four family members to death in a West Chester Twp. apartment isn’t sitting well with County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser.

While it has been more than two years since the slayings, legal wrangling continues between Gurpreet Singh’s defense team in the prosecution about public money to hire defense experts in the death penalty case.

Gmoser objected to Butler County Common Pleas Judge Greg Howard’s decision in which the judge stated he would consider specific requests filed by the defense for experts, but would not give the defense team a blank check.

A team of attorneys from Rittgers and Rittgers were retained by Singh family members at the time of his arrest in 2019, but no longer have the funding to pay additional experts the defense says is needed.

A terse response was filed by the defense to Gmoser’s objection, which prompted another pointed response from Gmoser. Howard has not responded, but Singh is due back in court next week for a pretrial hearing when the issue may be addressed.

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.

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.

Gmoser objected to the decision in a motion for reconsideration, stating 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 that 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.”

Singh’s defense team responded to Gmoser’s motion, noting the request for public funds does not pertain to attorney fees, but for investigation and experts only.

“The State of Ohio provided no authority for its outlandish proposition that the state can dictate how privately retained counsel structure their representation fees,” attorney Neil Schuett wrote in the response signed by lead attorneys Charles H. and Charles M. Rittgers.

They also said removing the death penalty specification from the case would save taxpayers lots of money.

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.

Singh had received money from relatives in India to hire the defense team, but “that well is now dry,” according to Schuett. The defense team asked for $50,000 to $60,000 from the state to hire expert witnesses throughout the trial, which is set to begin in October 2022.

Prosecutors said that prior to his arrest, Singh was employed as an owner-operator of a semi-tractor trailer, which is typically valued at $75,000 and $175,000, and 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.

Prosecutors also say the defense team has $250,000, according to court documents.

In Gmoser’s response to the defense filed last week, he said, “It makes no difference where the defense fee came from that has been paid. It could be from friends of the defendant, his assets funneled back through them or from the tooth fairy, but ultimately it was a private contract without the state or court involvement. Now the court is asked to make the taxpayers a party to that agreement instead of telling the defense to use money already paid and call whatever they received fees, expenses or anything else.”

Gmoser said he “appreciates the comic relief” offered by the defense that the state is at fault for the defense’s expense woes by prosecuting the case with a death penalty speciation.

“The Butler County grand jury returned the indictment calling for punishment and it the state’s sworn obligation to pursue it.” Gmoser said.

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