Nov. 20—The retrial of Gurpreet Singh, accused of the 2019 West Chester Twp. killing of his wife and three family members, will happen with a three-judge panel, not a jury.
Singh and his third defense team on Monday were back in Butler County Common Pleas Court, where the 41-year-old waived his right to a jury trial in the capital murder trial that is scheduled to begin April 29, 2024.
Defense attorneys Mark Wieczorek and Alexandria Deardorff, who have been retained by Singh, declined comment after the hearing.
In October 2023, the jury in Singh's first case was hung after nearly two weeks of testimony and 14 hours of deliberation. 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.
A death penalty case before a three-judge panel is a rarity. The last one in Butler County was 13 years ago when Greg Osie of West Chester Twp., was convicted by a panel consisted of Judges Noah Powers, Charles Pater and Patricia Oney of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery and tampering with evidence for stabbing David Williams to death Feb. 14, 2009.
Howard, then a defense attorney, was one of two attorneys who represented Osie.
Just as in a jury trial, the verdict by a three judge panel in the guilt phase must be unanimous. In the mitigation phase, the verdict among the judges must be unanimous for death, if it is not, the ruling is life without the possibility of parole, 25 years to life or 30 years to life, according to Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser.
On Monday, Howard ordered Singh's interpreter to go over the jury waiver with him in the presence of his attorney and asked him extensive questions in English with the interpreter translating. Singh answered the judge in English, stating he knew he was giving up his right to a jury trial.
A three-judge panel was selected by random draw in Dec. 2019. The presiding judge Howard is a member, followed by Judge Dan Haughey and Judge Keith Spaeth.
Howard indictated Haughey — who was not yet judge in 2019 — said he will recuse himself because he had contact with Singh in juvenile court concerning custody of his children. Next on the list is Judge Greg Stephens.
After some legal arguments, Howard determined the presiding Butler County Judge Noah Powers II would determine the panel, which could be from the selected list in 2019 or by another draw.
Howard made it clear he would go forward with hearing jury excuses and keeping requirements in place as if there was going to be a jury trial until right before it is scheduled to begin in case Singh should withdraw the waiver.
"We are going to proceed up until the morning of the trial," Howard said. "I do not want to delay this trial again."
Wieczorek and Alexandria Deardorff were retained by Singh in April. They are replacing court-appointed attorneys David Washington, Jeremy Evans and Lawrence Hawkins III, who were appointed after the first trial ended in a hung jury in October 2022.
Singh remains housed in the Butler County Jail without bond.
After the October 2023 mistrial, Singh's retained attorneys from Rittgers and Rittgers law firm were permitted to withdraw from his case, indicating Singh could no longer pay them. Howard then appointed Washington and Evans, who have specialized training in capital cases, to represent Singh.
Singh represented to the court he was indigent when seeking public funds for experts before his first trial after paying the defense team $250,000. Following the mistrial, he received court-appointed attorneys after indicating he remained indigent.
Months later, Singh was able to retain the latest defense team.
The 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.
During the first trial, 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 team at the first trial 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.
But there was little evidence presented at trial by the defense to support that theory.
See video of Gurpreet Singh in court.