Retrial for man accused of killing 4 family members in West Chester set to begin Monday

Gurpreet Singh’s capital case will be presented to a 3-judge panel weighing the evidence.

Gurpreet Singh, the former West Chester resident accused of killing four family members, has spent nearly 1,700 days in the Butler County Jail.

This week, Singh was in court for a final hearing leading up to his capital murder retrial scheduled to begin next week.

He appeared thinner, said nothing to his latest defense team and listened to an interpreter via headphones.

Singh, now 41, 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 possibility of the death penalty, if convicted.

Singh waived his right to a jury trial, opting for a three-judge panel this time around. It is a rarity and came after his first trial in October 2022 ended in a mistrial when the jury was deadlocked and did not believe any further deliberations would served a useful purpose.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

There was one juror who was a hold out during deliberations, according to officials.

Defense attorney Mark Wieczorek told the Journal-News earlier this month, “We are confident we are making the right choice based on our theory of litigation and our interpretation of the evidence.”

Wieczorek and attorney Alexandria Deardorff were retained by Singh after his first defense team withdrew following the first trial and he briefly had been appointed a defense team by the court.

“We are not planning on losing,” Wieczorek said. “We believe we can win the case.”

Butler County Common Pleas Judge Greg Howard has proceeded with the vetting of prospective jurors through the questionnaire process and two hearings to rule on requests to be excused.

It is an effort to assure the trial is not continued.

Defendants have the right to change their mind and withdraw the jury waiver until the first witness is sworn. Perspectives jurors, 150 or more, will be held in a conference room, until the prosecution formally calls and swears in a witness. This will happen even before opening statements, according to the judge’s order. Then Howard said he will dismiss the jury pool and the trial can proceed.

“I know it is unusual, but I just don’t want these folks (inconvenienced for hours). The only reason they are going to be here is out of an abundance of caution for jury waiver protection,” Howard said.

The judicial panel consisting of Judges Keith Spaeth and Greg Stephens along with Howard will then view the crime scene at 4562 Wyndtree Drive as the jury did in the first trial. The request was made by the prosecution and includes the parking lot to the west side of the building, the breezeway on the first floor walking up to the apartment.

As in the first trial, the defense objected to the admission of background evidence, including an ongoing affair Singh had with a woman in Indiana at the time of the homicides and a hostile relationship between Singh and his father-in-law that may have turned physical prior to the slayings as motive for murder.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The defense objected again with both sides arguing at the pretrial hearing.

Assistant Butler County Prosecutor Willa Concannon cited case law that states “when there is an aggravated murder of family members and when there is aggravated murder of a spouse, evidence of the defendant’s hostile relationship with the family member victims and the defendant’s extra marital affair is highly probative of motive and prior calculation and design.”

Deardorff said the case law cited documented “years” of hostility between the perpetrator and the victims.

“This is not that situation,” Deardorff said.

She said there was a money dispute between Singh and one of the victims “that was it, there was not increasing hostility, or increasing threats of violence, or threats of hostility at the time of the murders ... (just) one alleged argument that there is evidence to dispute.”

In terms of the affair, Deardorff said, “The testimony from Miss Kaur at trial demonstrated that this was not something that at the time was enough that it would have spurred a homicide as the state argued that it would.”

Howard ruled for the prosecution as he did in the first trial.

“I admitted this evidence at the first trial finding that it was probative ... I think it does go to the weight of the evidence, and I am going to be consistent in my ruling,” Howard said.

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

Howard, then a defense attorney, was one of two attorneys who represented Osie.

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 remains housed in the Butler County Jail without bond.

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 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.

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