Quadruple homicide trial delay highlights fears for Butler County courts during coronavirus

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Gurpreet Singh appears in court with interpreter

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The trial for a West Chester Twp. man charged with killing four members of his family in 2019 has been moved to the fall due to coronavirus concerns.

Gurpreet Singh, 38, is charged with four counts of aggravated murder for the April 28, 2019, homicides. With specifications of using a firearm and killing two or more persons, Singh faces the death penalty if convicted.

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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 residence on Wyndtree Drive. All died of gunshot wounds.

Gurpreet Singh appears in court with interpreter
Gurpreet Singh appears in court with interpreter

Singh was in Butler County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday for a pretrial hearing. Judge Greg Howard raised questions about how realistic the existing trial date was due to the continued pandemic and rescheduled the trial from May 3 to Oct. 18.

Howard said those in the jury pool for ongoing cases are calling daily wanting to know what has been done to protect their health during jury selection and trial.

“My personal opinion that given the ongoing state of the pandemic, the vaccine not going as quickly as everyone believed it would go, getting 14 to 16 people for three weeks to try a case in this courtroom or the courtroom down the hallway that has been outfitted with plexiglass … I just don’t see us being able to get 16 people to sit with us, away from their families next to strangers,” Howard said.

He added there are a large number of attorneys, witnesses and interpreters who also would have to be in the courtroom.

Assistant Prosecutor Josh Muennich said the state is ready for trial, but “to be able to get through the trial is a concern of ours. We have the same concerns. If we have a juror or family member of a juror or one of the litigants get sick or contract COVID what would happen to the trial?”

The defense team also expressed concerns about about the possibility of a mistrial if an illness happened during the lengthy trial.

“We don’t want some type of trial halfway through,” said defense attorney Neil Schuett.

He added the matter had been discussed with Singh. Howard asked Singh directly if he understood the discussion about a trial delay, and he said, “Yes.”

Both the prosecutors and defense team said they were ready for trial, but understood the concerns about COVID and did not want to risk a mistrial.

Because the trial is a capital case that could result in the death penalty if Singh is found guilty, it is usually lengthy - up to three weeks. In addition to 12 jurors, an additional four alternates are usually seated.

Depending on scheduling and how the trial progresses, sequestration of the jury could also occur.

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