The B.C. Court of Appeal this week upheld the conviction of Ninderjit Singh, 36, who had pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of his former girlfriend, Poonam Randhawa, 18, in 1999.
Singh, who was arrested in California in August 2011 and subsequently extradited back to Canada to face a first-degree murder charge in the 1999 slaying of Vancouver school student Randhawa, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of second-degree murder in B.C. Supreme Court in a surprise move in March 2013 just when his trial by jury was to have begun. And the following month he was sentenced to life in prison with no parole eligibility for 16 years by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bruce Butler.
But Singh filed a notice in the B.C. Court of Appeal against that conviction and sentence, claiming that Butler erred in a number of ways. He wanted a new trial ordered.
However, the Crown had also filed a notice in the Appeal Court that stated that if a new trial was ordered then they should be allowed to try him for first-degree murder.
Singh’s application was taken up in the Appeal Court on Wednesday, but the panel of three judges rejected Singh’s application and upheld his conviction.
The reasons for the decision will be issued at a later date. Singh’s lawyer told media that defence will study the full reasons and see if they can appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
ON January 26, 1999, just after Randhawa had turned 18, Ninderjit, who also went by the names of Soos and Bira or Beera, took her in his car, shot her in the head and dumped her body in a Vancouver alleyway in the 1400-block West of 47th Avenue.
Ninderjit had reportedly courted Randhawa for nearly a year, but she told no one about her secret dating. When she could not tolerate his advances, she moved to another school, Winston Churchill secondary in Vancouver, and also changed her home phone number. But Ninderjit kept stalking her. Her friends and family were baffled as to why she went out with him that afternoon.
Ninderjit fled to the U.S., where he was nearly nabbed in San Jose. He managed to escape minutes before police knocked on his friend’s house.
But Vancouver Police never stopped looking for him and on August 23, 2011, Deputy Chief Constable Warren Lemcke, Investigation Division, announced: “Today, I get to make an announcement from this podium and I can’t remember when any announcement has ever given me this much pleasure. We got him. After years of searching, near misses and heartbreaking attempts, we got him.”
Ninderjit was nabbed on August 19 in Irvine, near Los Angeles.
Inspector Brad Desmarais of Vancouver Police’s Major Crime Section told the media in 2011: “On January 29, 1999, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Ninderjit Singh for the first degree murder of Poonam Randhawa.
“The VPD investigation determined that within hours of the murder, Ninderjit Singh had boarded a plane in Seattle, Washington, bound for Los Angeles, California, where he had family connections on his mother’s side. Singh had previously lived in California in 1998 and worked at an uncle’s gas station.
By the year 2000, investigators believed that Ninderjit Singh was living in an apartment in San Jose, California. Surveillance was conducted, but it is believed Singh became aware of the police presence and fled before he could be arrested.
“Ninderjit Singh was featured on the TV show America’s Most Wanted and was the focus of numerous media appeals. Investigators received numerous tips and followed up leads from across North America over the next twelve and a half years but Ninderjit Singh was never located.
“A core group of Vancouver Police investigators never gave up. They continued to aggressively search for Ninderjit Singh over the years. It was believed that Ninderjit Singh had assumed a false identity, had changed his appearance and was working as a long haul truck driver.
“Several weeks ago, VPD investigators became aware of a name that Ninderjit Singh had possibly assumed as his false identity. They contacted Homeland Security Investigations at the US Consulate in Vancouver, who immediately made available numerous resources required by homicide investigators.
“An intensive investigation began, which involved Homeland Security Investigations agents based in Los Angeles and VPD homicide investigators working in Southern California. As a result, investigators focused on a residence in Riverside County, California, approximately a two-hour drive east of Los Angeles.
“On Friday, August 19, investigators located Ninderjit Singh at work in Irvine, California, but he had altered his appearance so much that investigators needed to be able to confirm his identity.
“Around 11:30 a.m. that same day, investigators arranged for a California Highway Patrol officer to pull over Ninderjit Singh, who was driving a big rig, and issue him a ticket. Ninderjit Singh’s thumbprints were obtained during the traffic stop. The thumbprints were rushed to a local police department to be compared to the fingerprints held by VPD homicide investigators.
“By 1:15 p.m., investigators had what they needed: a confirmed fingerprint match. They had determined that the thumbprints taken from the truck driver in Irvine, California, matched those of Ninderjit Singh.
“Just after 2 p.m., another traffic stop was conducted in Riverside County after a vehicle was observed leaving Ninderjit Singh’s residence. The traffic stop was co-ordinated by Homeland Security Investigations agents and VPD homicide investigators. In the vehicle was Ninderjit Singh, his wife and their two young children.
“Ninderjit Singh was arrested on a provisional warrant without incident. He immediately confirmed his real identity and stated that he was aware he was wanted for murder in Canada.
“In an effort to conceal his identity, Ninderjit Singh had gained weight, grown a beard and wore a turban at times. Today, he looks nothing like the 1998 photo seen in local media reports.
“It has since been determined that Ninderjit Singh had allegedly used a false identity to acquire a US Social Security number in New York in 2000. He lived in Northern California for a number of years before moving to Southern California. He was married outside of California and obtained an out-of-state drivers licence, all of this using his false identity. He has worked as a long-haul truck driver and had made weekly trips between Los Angeles and the Seattle, Washington area for the past few years.
“Ninderjit Singh’s wife has been interviewed. She has allegedly stated that she did not know his real identity or that he was wanted for murder.”
Singh was lodged in a Los Angeles jail until his extradition back to Canada.
IN March 2013, during the sentencing hearing for Singh, Crown counsel Sandy Cunningham told court that every member of his family lied to police about his whereabouts and any contact with him. Yet his mom went to California to spend time with him and his wife after his two kids were born.
Changing his appearance and with a false identity, he eluded police for more than 12 years.
Vancouver Police investigators finally carried out a Mr. Big undercover operation. Posing as members of a criminal organization, they zeroed in on Singh’s half-brother Parmjit Soos in Calgary and tracked down Singh in San Jacinto, California.
Soos was trying to arrange an operation to alter his brother’s fingerprints and police told him that they knew a surgeon in Las Vegas. They provided him with a cellphone that was to be used only for contacting Singh. Through that cellphone, police got hold of Singh’s phone number and address.
Cunningham said Singh’s friend, Paul Aulakh, who was driving the vehicle in which Randhawa was shot signed an immunity agreement. He claimed that he didn’t know that Singh had a gun or that he planned to harm Randhawa.