Defense points to ‘Land Mafia of India’ for their roles in West Chester quadruple murder
WEST CHESTER, Ohio (WXIX) - Opening statements in the capital murder trial of a man accused of gunning down his wife, her parents and her aunt in Butler County County laid out a previously untold story involving the mafia’s possible involvement in these murders.
Gurpreet Singh is accused of killing his wife, her parents, and her aunt at the Lakefront at West Chester apartment complex on Wyndtree Drive on April 28, 2019.
The victims are: Singh’s wife, Shalinderjit Kaur, 39; his mother-in-law, Parmjit Kaur, 62; his father-in-law, Hakiakat Singh Pannag, 59 and his wife’s aunt, Amarjit Kaur, 58.
Singh, 40, has pleaded not guilty to four counts of aggravated murder.
Opening statements typically set the stage for the prosecution and the defense to make and prove their side.
Legally, the burden of proof falls on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Singh was responsible for killing four of his own family members.
The defense’s case has given them something to prove in this case as well.
They claim Singh was not responsible for the killings and are attempting to connect the murders to two other people, saying their motive is related to a property dispute in India.
Defense: “They’re known to take land by what the relative says is the cook and crook method, they’re known as ‘Land Mafia of India.’”
The prosecution spent a good portion of their opening statements drawing out a timeline and citing cell phone data that allegedly puts Singh at the scene of the crime around the same time gunshots are heard by neighbors.
Prosecution: “This is the story of this defendant, arriving home between 9:09 and 9:11 p.m. on April 28th, 2019, and waiting 30 minutes until he called 911, telling the police his first lie of the evening.”
While the prosecution continued to bring up what Singh told police about having “just” arrived home to find the bodies of his family, his defense says two other people are responsible for the killings.
The defense claims the evidence leans in favor of their story.
Defense: “Gurpreet saw the beginnings of what happened on April 29th, 2019 but he did not see the actual killings.”
The trial is expected to take two to three weeks.
If convicted, Singh could face the death penalty.
On the night of the killings, West Chester police questioned Singh as a witness but did not take him into custody or arrest him.
Singh called 911 around 10 p.m.that night and told a dispatcher he came home and found four relatives on the ground, bleeding from the head.
“They’re all down..... No one’s talking. No one’s talking,” he said on the call, which was released to FOX19 NOW through a public record request. “They’re bleeding.”
Singh was arrested in Connecticut less than three months later, in July 2019, and indicted the following month.
His trial has been delayed multiple times, however, so that Singh, who speaks English and Punjabi, could get an interpreter in court and also due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to court records.
His attorneys have argued in legal filings that another person or persons killed his family.
Prosecutors are fighting to keep details about that out of court, according to a state motion, one the defense rebutted in their own motion.
Prosecutors have amassed an extensive witness list of about 50 people they can call to the stand to help them lay out their case against Singh, court records show.
Witnesses include West Chester and Mason police, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and FBI agents and employees of United Airlines, cell phone companies and more.
The defense has about a dozen witnesses they could call to the stand.
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Singh’s attorneys are listed in court records as Neil Schuett, Charles M. Rittgers and John Bernans.
Citing health reasons, Singh’s most experienced litigator, Charles H. Rittgers, 71, withdrew from the trial in August.
Taxpayers are footing the bill for Singh’s legal expenses because he was declared indigent and this is a death penalty case.
Due to a recent ruling by the judge overseeing the case, Greg Howard, taxpayers also are paying for experts to assist his legal team.
And, public money also will fund the travel expenses of Singh’s family so they can fly to the U.S. from India.
On Sept, 21, the judge granted a defense motion for $6,000 for Singh’s father and mother as well as his “religious Guru” so they can be here to offer testimony on his behalf “in the Sentencing Phase of the case, should that phase be necessary,” court records state.
All this taxpayer money that may be spent on the death penalty portion of this trial, if Singh is convicted, ultimately could be a moot point.
The death penalty in Ohio has been on hold for nearly two years and now there is proposed legislation to kill it for good.
Gov. Mike DeWine halted it in 2020, saying there weren’t enough lethal injection drugs available unless state lawmakers pick an alternative execution method.
That’s something lawmakers have clearly not done.
In fact, there is now legislation proposed in both the House and Senate to abolish the death penalty in Ohio.
A lawmaker from Greater Cincinnati, State Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) and State Rep. Adam Miller (D-Columbus) are the main sponsors of the bipartisan House Bill 183.
Three Cincinnati Democrats are among the many co-sponsors: State Reps. Brigid Kelly, Sedrick Denson and Catherine Ingram.
House Bill 183 is not expected to make it to the House floor for a vote until about mid-2023.
A similar bill, SB 103, is proposed in Ohio’s Senate.
The General Assembly is not scheduled to hold voting sessions again until after the November election.
The last prisoner put to death in Ohio was a local man, Robert Van Hook, 58, of Sharonville.
He was executed on July 18, 2018, more than 30 years after murdering a man he met in a bar in downtown Cincinnati in what prosecutors say was a particularly vicious and gruesome slaying.
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