West Chester quadruple homicide: Singh gets new attorney, judge declines recusal

First trial ended with hung jury after 3 weeks.

HAMILTON — During a hearing for Gurpreet Singh to decide if the man accused of killing his wife and three family members will be tried again, Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser accused the judge of bias in Singh’s first trial.

Gmoser said Butler County Common Pleas Judge Greg Howard should have removed feuding jurors in last month’s death penalty trial that ended in a hung jury and requested he “get off the case.”

But Howard declined, telling Gmoser he does not feel he had or has bias.

““I’m not here to make people happy, I am here to follow the law,” Howard said. “I will not be recusing myself from this case.”

Howard declined to replace jurors with alternates knowing two jurors were at odds and not deliberating, the prosecutor said.

“You saw a hung jury coming and you made it happen,” Gmoser said.

The county prosecutor also showed the judge and defense counsel a photo of a sign he says is like one that is on a bookshelf in Howard’s chambers that some find offensive, and “should never see the light of day,” he said. The sign says “(Expletive) in charge of you (expletive) (expletive).”

Howard apologized if he had ever offended anyone.

Gmoser said he will file a motion by the end of the week with the Supreme Court of Ohio to have Howard removed from the case.

Over the objection of the prosecution, Howard granted the motion of the defense team of Rittgers and Rittgers to withdraw from the Singh case. The defense team said Singh can no longer afford to pay them as retained counsel.

Howard found Singh indigent after being in jail and unable to work for more than three years, then appointed attorneys David Washington and Jeremy Evans, who both have specialized in death penalty cases to defend Singh in the next trial.

Washington told the Journal-News, “I will be meeting with Mr. Singh very soon and will have the opportunity to discuss with prior counsel, and we will move on from there.”

In the motion to withdraw, defense attorney Neal Schuett said Singh retained the firm of Rittgers and Rittgers in 2019 to represent him. Because Singh was not granted bond, he has been unable to maintain gainful employment and is indigent, the motion states.

Schuett also indicated he had visited Singh at the county jail and he does not object “to our withdraw.”

In a written response filed late Monday, Gmoser said $250,000 was paid for the firm to represent Singh and Rittgers and Rittgers has no written contract with Singh that “contains the terms or scope of representation.”

In 2021, the defense team had Singh declared indigent, noting the quarter-of-a-million retainer was for “attorney fees” and not for additional expenses for funding of expert witnesses, investigation and other related expenses, Gmoser said.

Over the objection of the prosecution, Howard declared Singh indigent and approved public funding for experts and mitigation witnesses to travel from India.

“The state can only assume that defense counsel willingly and purposely chose to agree to an open ended representation of the defendant in this matter and this matter has not yet been concluded,” Gmoser wrote. “Allowing withdrawal of defense counsel at this stage simply because defense counsel did not ask for enough money for attorney fees is an affront to the taxpayers of Butler County who have already paid to supplement the defense.”

Singh is still in custody and under indictment. He has been without bond in the Butler County Jail since his arrest in August 2019.

After a three-week trial with nearly two weeks of testimony and 14 hours of deliberation, Butler County Common Pleas 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.

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.

Two jurors and the defense team indicated there was one juror who could not be convinced for conviction.

Deliberations apparently turned hostile with one juror sending a note to the judge saying she “didn’t feel safe.” Another juror sent a note saying “I can no longer in due diligence be on this jury. One juror is not following our instructions or rules.”

Howard questioned all 12 jurors about the issues individually and sent them to a second night of sequestration on Oct. 20.

The next morning, 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.

The prosecution called for the removal of two jurors because of misconduct, saying it was making it impossible to deliberate. Howard declined to dismiss the jurors, 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 she was 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.

Assistant Prosecutor Josh Muennich said it was a matter of juror 111 creating an environment that impeded the deliberation process.

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.

Read more about the mistrial and Singh’s case at journal-news.com.

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