Retrial for West Chester Twp. man in deaths of 4 family members on track to begin in April

The last death penalty case before a three-judge panel in Butler County happened 14 years ago.

Gurpreet Singh, accused of the 2019 West Chester Twp. killing of his wife and three family members, was back in a Butler County courtroom this week for a hearing on jury excuses, which the defense team said is moot.

In November, the 41-year-old former truck driver waived his right to a jury trial in the capital murder case that is scheduled to begin April 29.

But the judge wants to make sure Singh doesn’t have a last-minute change of heart, thus the need for Tuesday’s hearing.

Defense attorneys Mark Wieczorek and Alexandria Deardorff, who have been retained by Singh, are the third team of attorneys to represent him.

In October 2023, the jury in Singh’s first case deadlocked after nearly two weeks of testimony and 14 hours of deliberation. Judge Greg Howard declared a mistrial when the jury indicated it was hung and did not believe any further deliberations would serve a useful purpose.

Wieczorek said Tuesday the trial is on track to start as scheduled, and Singh in resolute in the decision to try the case before a tribunal.

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 that consisted of 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.

A three-judge panel was selected by random draw in December 2019. The presiding judge Howard is a member, followed by Judge Dan Haughey and Judge Keith Spaeth.

Haughey — who was not yet a judge in 2019 — said he will recuse himself because he had contact with Singh in juvenile court concerning custody of his children. That means the third judge will be Greg Stephens.

In November, Howard made it clear he would go forward with hearing jury excuses and keeping requirements in place as if there was going to be a jury trial until right before it is scheduled to begin in case Singh should withdraw the waiver.

“We are going to proceed up until the morning of the trial,” Howard said. “I do not want to delay this trial again.”

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Tuesday’s hearing concerned the first round of requested excuses returned in questionnaires sent to potential jurors. A second round is set for a hearing next month.

Singh remains housed in the Butler County Jail without bond.

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.

During the first trial, 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 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.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

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