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Aug. 6—The eldest, most experienced member of the defense team representing a man accused of the shooting death of four family members in a West Chester Twp. apartment wants to withdraw due to his health.
Charles H. Rittgers, a high profile attorney in the region for more than 40 years, most recently counsel in the federal corruption trial of former Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, says his health and age will not allow him to participate in any more trial work.
"I don't want to try another two-week trial and end up dying," Rittgers said Friday. "It's hard. It has been my existence for 44 years."
Gurpreet Singh, 39, 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.
Rittgers along with his son Charles M. Rittgers and two other members of the Lebanon law firm signed on to represent Singh shortly after the homicides.
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 with gunshot wounds.
After several delays and legal maneuvering, Singh's trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 3 in Butler County Common Pleas Court.
Rittgers filed the motion Tuesday to withdraw, stating after the recent two-week trial he concluded "he no longer has the stamina or health to meaningfully participate in another trial."
The motion also states 71-year-old Rittgers has a heart condition "which is exacerbated by stress and lack of sleep. (Rittgers) participation could lead to ineffective assistance of counsel."
In the past 18 months, according to the motion, attorneys Charles M. Rittgers, Neal Schuett and J.R. Bernans have worked independently from Charles H. Rittgers on the Singh case.
The three remaining attorneys are competent and prepared to represent Singh, according to Rittgers' motion.
"They don't need me," Rittgers said during a Journal-News interview.
Rittgers said he hasn't lost his skills, but "I don't want to die, nor do I want to screw up a case."
After the Sittenfeld trial, Rittgers said he realized "I am not as young as I used to be."
Rittgers said he can still share his legal skills behind the scenes, just not in the courtroom.
"I may not be the smartest in the law profession, but I have done a lot of stuff," Rittgers said. "l can advise younger lawyers about things they have not faced and I have. I am still useful, I am not ready to be put out to pasture yet."
The defense did not ask for a continuance and the prosecution is not expected to oppose Rittgers' withdraw.
Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said, "As long as it doesn't result in a delay, I have no problem with the withdraw. I wish him well and he will be missed."
Rittgers represented Brooke Skylar Richardson, a Carlisle teen charged with killing her baby and burying her in the backyard of her parents home. Richardson was found not guilty of all but one charge, abuse of a corpse, in the September 2019 Warren County Common Pleas Court trial that received national media and live streaming coverage.
In 2016, Rittgers represented Austin Hancock, then 15, in Butler County Juvenile Court for the February shooting at Madison Jr./Sr. High School that injured four students. Hancock pleaded guilty to four counts of attempted murder with gun specifications and inducing panic. Four counts of felonious assault were dismissed. He was sentenced to the Ohio Department of Youth Services until his 21st birthday.
Rittgers was the attorney for Ryan Widmer in his first trial in Warren County Common Pleas Court. Widmer was convicted by a jury on April 2, 2009, of drowning his wife, Sarah, in the bathtub of their Hamilton Twp. home. The defense later was successful in getting a new trial due to jury misconduct. Widmer remains in prison serving a 15 years to life sentence after conviction in a third trial. In the second trial, the jury was deadlocked.