Push for executions in Ohio renewed, but capital cases never stopped

Two death penalty cases pending in Butler County courtrooms this year

Some Ohio legislators and Attorney General Dave Yost last week pitched legislation to reinstate carrying out death sentences in the state after Alabama’s first-of-it-kind execution using nitrogen hypoxia.

Executions were paused in 2020 by Gov. Mike DeWine following debates over the lethal injection protocol.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

But just because executions are on hold in Ohio doesn’t mean capital indictments haven’t been presented to grand juries and indictments handed down throughout the state.

In 2023, 13 defendants were indicted for a capital offense, according the Ohio Supreme Court clerk of courts — four in Trumbull County, two in Clermont County, two in Cuyahoga County, and one each in Hocking, Ashland, Marion, Meigs and Butler counties.

Two death penalty trials are slated for Butler County in 2024 — a retrial of Gurpreet Singh in April and the trial of Robbi Robinson in August. Both are scheduled to last three weeks.

Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said while there are lots of questions to be answered about the use of nitrogen hypoxia, it doesn’t mean his office will not follow the law. The death sentence itself is not abolished in Ohio.

“There has to be more data regarding the usage of the method, but that doesn’t change the law I am sworn to uphold,” he said. “So if the case is a death penalty case, I never want be in a position of saying I object to going forward with a death penalty case because I disagree with a required implementation of the law I am sworn to uphold.”

Not all cases, even if the accused is charged with aggravated murder, carry the possibility of the death. Gmoser said the decision always lies with the grand jury on whether the elements of the alleged crime have met the specifications of a capital case, including the number of victims, age of victim, and premeditation.

Gmoser said at times grand jurors ask if the case is a capital case and he answers truthfully based on the law, not his personal opinions.

“This not to say I don’t have personal issues with the national debate ... but I have a sworn obligation to follow the law,” he said. “There have been practices in Ohio when a prosecutor is reported to say ‘I am not seeking the death penalty, or I am not going to present it to the grand jury in this case.’ That is not the way it works in Butler County. It is up to the grand jury.”

Gmoser acknowledged capital cases are costly and lengthy to prosecute, but that also can’t be a deciding factor from steering away from them.

Singh’s second trial is now scheduled to begin April 29 before Butler County Common Pleas Judge Greg Howard.

The former truck driver is accused of the 2019 West Chester Twp. killing of his wife and three family members. The case has taken twists and turns, including an October 2023 jury trial that ended in a mistrial after nearly two weeks of testimony and 14 hours of deliberation.

In November, Singh’s third defense team said the 41-year-old waived his right to a jury in the retrial.

A death penalty case before a three-judge panel is a rarity. The last one in Butler County was 13 years ago when Greg Osie of West Chester Twp. was convicted by a panel of Judges Noah Powers, Charles Pater and Patricia Oney on counts of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery and tampering with evidence for stabbing David Williams to death Feb. 14, 2009.

Just as in a jury trial, the verdict by a three-judge panel in the guilt phase must be unanimous. In the mitigation phase, the verdict among the judges must be unanimous for death, if it is not, the ruling is life without the possibility of parole, 25 years to life or 30 years to life, according to prosecutors.

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 remains housed in the Butler County Jail without bond.

Robinson’s trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 26 before Butler County Common Pleas Judge Keith Spaeth.

Robinson, 24, is charged with aggravated murder, aggravated arson and felonious assault for the May 11 incident on Arroyo Ridge Court. Robinson was arrested as he attempted to leave the scene.

The victim, Brenda Scott, died of her injuries a few weeks later. Robinson faces the death penalty if convicted.

Prosecutors say Robinson filled a container with accelerant, took it to an upstairs bedroom, doused the 50-year-old woman with it and lit her on fire. He is also accused of hitting her in the face, knocking out teeth. Scott jumped out a window to escape.

He is being held in the Butler County Jail in lieu of $1 million bond

Scott was found on fire in her backyard by a neighbor, who called 911.

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