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Quadruple homicide suspect can use taxpayer money for defense experts, judge rules - again

Published: Nov. 11, 2021 at 10:22 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 11, 2021 at 12:55 PM EST
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WEST CHESTER, Ohio (WXIX) - A quadruple homicide suspect can use public money for defense experts, a Butler County judge ruled for the second time in the case.

That means taxpayers could foot the bill for thousands to pay experts to assist attorneys defending Gurpreet Singh.

Singh faces four counts of aggravated murder for allegedly killing his wife, her parents, and her aunt at the Lakefront at West Chester apartment complex in April 2019.

He could face the death penalty if convicted.

The attorneys representing Singh - Charles Rittgers Sr. and Charles Rittgers Jr. -want money from the court to help build his defense.

Singh was declared indigent. That means he no longer has the funds to pay for private defense counsel, according to court documents.

The latest decision about Singh’s defense came after a heated court hearing Wednesday, one requested by Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser.

Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Greg Howard originally ruled there was potential for public money to be used for experts for the defense.

He stressed he would not give Singh’s attorneys the ability to freely spend whatever they wanted. It’s clear in his decision and statements in court that he felt he had to rule the way he did, otherwise the case, if Singh is convicted, could be open to overturning on appeal.

The judge also said in court Wednesday he doesn’t like the decision he made but he didn’t want to try the case and see it overturned on appeal because he didn’t permit money for defense experts.

“At the hearing, defense counsel represented they expected they would need somewhere in the range of $50,000 - $60,000 for the hiring of experts. The court is unsure of where this number comes from and the court is not going to provide defense counsel with a blank check to hire whichever expert they think may be able to assist them in their representation of this defendant. Expert funds for any such experts may be approved only upon a particularized showing by defense counsel that such experts would aid in their defense,” Judge Howard wrote in the latest decision.

“As expressed at the hearing held in this matter, should the court grant funds for the hiring of expert assistance, the court may only approve that which the court would have approved had counsel been appointed to represent the defendant, had he or his family been unable to hire private counsel. The defendant isn’t entitled to the best experts that money can buy. Only those that are competent and can assist in the defense of his case.

“Based upon this court’s ruling, should counsel for the defendant seek funds for the hiring of experts, they shall file the appropriate motion with the court specifically requesting the expert assistance needed, serve the same upon the prosecutor’s office and schedule a hearing before the court regarding their request and be prepared to present to the court the reasonable probability that the requested expert would aid in the defendant’s defense.”

Gmoser objected to the judge’s original decision and says he still has grave concerns about this one as well.

“I agree with (the judge’s) statement that he doesn’t like what he feels he has to do,” Gmoser said Thursday.

This sets a precedent for allowing defense counsel to charge attorney fees that are equal to the defendant’s total assets and then request taxpayer dollars to pay for a forensic expert, a mitigation expert and private investigators, he notes.

The defense team was retained and paid for by a family member of Singh, according to court documents. The funds needed for additional services and experts have run out.

For the defense counsel to then request taxpayer funds for mitigation and forensic experts and private investigators on top of the $250,000 they have already charged for this case is “unacceptable,” Gmoser wrote in his legal filings.

In a case like Singh’s, the prosecutor notes that “any experienced lawyer” should know those experts would be needed.

The judge has said there was no fee agreement reached between Singh’s attorneys and his family.

If funds are granted to the defense, the issue becomes private attorneys deciding how to best use public funds to represent Singh in this case as opposed to a death penalty certified public defender deciding how to use the money.

In similar serious cases in the future, Gmoser said he will make sure his office files requests to the court making sure fee agreements are reached between defendants and private attorneys so taxpayers aren’t exposed like this again.

The trial in the quadruple homicide case has yet to begin.

On May 26, the defense requested more time due to delays in getting things they need from Singh’s home country because of COVID-19 restrictions, according to his attorney.

The trial was delayed until Oct. 3, 2022.

The case is due to return to court next for a Nov. 29 motion hearing.

Singh’s attorney referred us to previous pleadings of his in the case when we reached out to him for comment.

Here is a copy of the judge’s decision in its entirety:

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