HAMILTON — In an opinion filed on Wednesday, Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Gregory Howard ruled that Gurpreet Singh, accused of killing four with a gun in 2019, has the right to public funds to pay defense experts.
In September, Howard heard from the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office and Gurpreet Singh’s defense team on his request to declare Singh indigent.
Singh is charged with the homicides of 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 in April 2019. All died of gunshot wounds. With charge specifications of using a firearm and killing two or more persons, Singh faces the death penalty if convicted.
Attorney Neal Schuett said Singh, a truck driver and father of two, had been in the Butler County Jail since he was arrested in August 2019 and unable to work. He said Singh has $270 in his bank account and no other assets.
Schuett said Singh had received money from relatives in India, but “that well is now dry.”
The defense team, led by Charles H. and Charles M. Rittgers, asked for $50,000 to $60,000 from the state to hire expert witnesses for the trial, which is scheduled to begin in 2022.
Assistant Butler County Prosecutor Josh Muennich said Singh paid his defense team $250,000. He compared the firm to a Ferrari and now it wants the state to pay for gas.
In a motion filed in July, the defense team requested a hearing to determine if Singh qualifies as an indigent defendant, which would qualify him for public money, if approved by the judge, for a defense.
“Due to my unemployment status, I do not have the financial means to pay for any mitigation investigation, fact investigation, expert witnesses, evaluations of other trial or mitigation phase-related services or witnesses,” Singh said in the affidavit. “Additionally, I no longer have financial savings to pay for said evaluations.”
Schuett said the request for public funds does not pertain to attorney fees, but for investigation and experts only.
According to the prosecution’s response, Singh was employed as an owner-operator of a semi-tractor trailer, typically valued at $75,000 and $175,000, that he had at least one bank account with a balance of $75,052.31 and owned real estate in Indianapolis valued at $330,180.
In his decision, Howard said evidence received included a credit check on Singh stating he does not have any assets personally or through any of the corporations he once held. And Singh himself did not retain his defense counsel, a family member did.
While some of the family money has paid for experts, additional money is needed for experts to properly prepare for trial, Howard said. Singh family members are now tapped out.
Howard said he will consider specific requests filed by the defense for experts, but will not give the defense team a blank check.
“At the hearing, defense counsel represented they expected they would need somewhere in the range of $50,000 to $60,000 for hiring experts,” Howard said in the ruling. “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.”
The judge said if funds were granted, it would be for the same amount of money that would have been approved for a defendant with court-appointed 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 the case,” Howard said.