Attorneys for a man accused of killing his wife and three other family members earlier this year in West Chester Twp. want evidence suppressed at trial because they say his interrogation was unconstitutional.
Gurpreet Singh, 37, is charged with four counts of aggravated murder stemming from the April 28 incident. 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 apartment. All died of gunshot wounds.
He is being held in the Butler County Jail without bond, and his trial is scheduled to begin on Sept. 21, 2020.
In the motion filed on Nov. 13, defense attorneys Charles H. and Charles M. Rittgers and Neal Schuett argue Singh’s constitutional rights were violated during a five-hour interrogation by West Chester police, so they want evidence gathered during interrogation suppressed.
Singh called 911 upon finding his family members seriously injured in their home and was handcuffed at the scene, his attorneys say. Singh was then taken to the police station and interrogated for five yours.
“During those five hours, Mr. Singh repeatedly asked to speak with his children, his family members and to a lawyer. It was not until after two hours of interrogation that Mr. Singh was read his Miranda rights. At that point, Mr. Singh refused to make any further statements and unequivocally ascertained his right to counsel. However, Mr. Singh was prevented from leaving the interrogation room, and he was told on multiple occasions that he was ‘detained’ and that he was ‘not free to leave,’” according to the defense motion.
Attorneys say police coerced Singh to continue to speak to them by denying access to his children and responding with statements like “we do not want to traumatize them more” and “I don’t want to cloud your mind.”
Butler County prosecutors have not yet responded to the defense motion, but Assistant Prosecutor Josh Muennich said Tuesday that “the police department treated him as a potential witness to a crime until it became apparent he was not.”
Singh was later arrested and charged and further investigation by police.
The defense also filed a motion earlier this month to have cash seized from Singh and from his dead wife’s purse returned to him.
“The seized property at issue in this motion consists of U.S. currency,” the motion says. “The State of Ohio has seized a total of $10,300 from Mr. Singh. First, law enforcement seized $8,000 in cash from Mr. Singh’s residence. Subsequently, another $2,300 was seized from Mr. Singh’s person when he was taken into custody. Both seizures were improper … and the cash should be returned.”
Defense attorneys argued the case does not involve the sale or purchase of illegal property, such as drugs, and Singh’s possession of his currency was not illegal.
At a pre-trial hearing, defense attorneys said the $2,300 had been returned to Singh. The $8,000 was found in a purse belonging to Singh’s wife at his residence, so it is part of marital property and should also be returned, his attorneys argued.
Muennich argued the money could be an important part of the case. The money was seized with a search warrant after the “brutal murder of the defendant’s family,” Muennich said.
“The state finds it interesting that the defense is asking for the return of the money in essence asking that the defendant be allowed to profit from the murders he has committed,” Muennich said.
Butler County Common Pleas Judge Greg Howard denied the motion, noting the money was seized with a warrant and it could be evidence.
Singh is next scheduled to be in court on Dec. 16 for the random draw of a three-judge panel. In Ohio, those facing the death penalty if found guilty have the option of a jury trial or trial in front of a three-judge panel. The judge panel is identified before the defendant chooses whether to pursue a jury trial or the panel.
Howard will be a member of the panel, but two other judges will be selected randomly from the other six general division common pleas judges.
This administrative function usually takes place early in the litigation process, because judges’ schedules fill up fast and the defense and defendant will know the makeup of the panel well in advance.
Charles H. Rittgers told the Journal-News Wednesday a three-judge panel is not being considered in the Singh trial.
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