Butler County’s most notorious murder case of 2019 has to start over: What we know today

Months after it began, the death penalty case stemming from the biggest Butler County crime of 2019 has to start over, which left the presiding judge “very irritated.”

Attorneys for Gurpreet Singh, 37, who is charged with four counts of aggravated murder stemming from the shooting deaths of four family members on April 28, filed a motion this week asking for a Punjabi interpreter for Singh. They expressed concern he didn’t understand what was happening in court.

Upset by the timing of the motion and the absence of several defense team members during a Thursday hearing, Common Please Judge Greg Howard ruled the entire case must begin again on Monday morning with an interpreter present for each moment.

Howard said by using an interpreter from Mason he wanted to prevent a “stupid technicality” from leading to a possible appeal if Singh were convicted.

“I don’t want this case coming back,” Howard said.

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.

The native of India is being held without bond since his indictment and arrest in August.

Singh’s defense team from Rittgers and Rittgers said after Monday’s bond hearing — where Howard decided to hold Singh without bond — it met with Singh and based off his questions, “for the first time he didn’t comprehend what was going on,” attorney John R. Bernans told Howard Thursday morning.

On April 28, Singh made a 911 call after finding the four people dead in the apartment, he told dispatchers.

In the call, he can be heard frantically saying: “My wife and family are on the ground bleeding. Please hurry. No one is talking. No one is talking.”

Did you do something to them, the dispatcher asked.

“No I just got home,” he said.

Howard told Bernans he was “very irritated” by the motion and was disappointed only Bernans was representing Singh in court for the hearing.

“That doesn’t make me happy either,” Howard said.

Howard told Bernans to contract the rest of the four-person team, including Charles H. Rittgers and Charles M. Rittgers, and tell them to appear in court immediately.

After a short recess, Bernans told the judge the rest of the defense team was unavailable because one was in court and another had a dental appointment, but was available by phone.

Howard said all four members of the defense team must appear at every hearing moving forward. Singh’s arraignment was set for 9 a.m. Monday.

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said bringing in an interpreter after several hearings is a “pretty unique situation” that he had never seen happen before.

That said, Fornshell said he “completely understands” Howard’s decision.

“In a death penalty case, the record is going to be reviewed for the next couple of decades by state court judges and federal judges,” he wrote in a text message. “Every aspect of it will be heavily scrutinized. It is better to start the process over right now before the court spends substantial time and resources impaneling a jury and conducting a trial, than to just proceed with the interpreter from this point forward only to have a federal judge 15 years from now say that a new trial must occur because there was no interpreter at the outset.”

Daniel Hall, professor of criminal justice at Miami University, applauded Howard’s decision.

“It’s best to play it safe in this case,” Hall said. “You want to make the wiser decision if it’s an issue.”

Before making his decision to bring in an interpreter, Howard questioned why Singh’s alleged inability to understand the English language became an issue months after his first court appearance. In fact, Howard said on Monday he saw Singh in the hallway of the courthouse and he said: “Good afternoon Judge Howard.”

Butler County Assistant Prosecutor Jon Marshall said in the 911 calls Singh made on April 28, he spoke fluent English and he answered all the questions from West Chester police officers in English.

At Thursday’s hearing, Singh wore a suit and tie and his hands were handcuffed and his ankles shackled. He never spoke, but nodded a few times during the hearing.

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