With a gun pointed at her head, Poonam Randhawa stared up at her ex-boyfriend from the back seat of his friend’s car and laid down a challenge just before he ended her life.
“I’m not scared of you, go ahead, shoot me,” the 18-year-old told the man.
With that, Ninderjit Singh made good on his threat to do exactly that if she didn’t tell him “the truth” about her infidelity.
Fourteen years after the murder, details of the Vancouver teen’s “point-blank” killing and how the man evaded police for over a decade were recounted Wednesday at Mr. Singh’s B.C. Supreme Court sentencing hearing. The man, who was hunted and finally tracked down in California in August, 2011, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder in a plea deal in early March.
Noting a range of aggravating factors, the Crown has asked a judge to sentence Mr. Singh to life in prison with no parole eligibility for 17 to 20 years.
Ms. Randhawa was killed just two days after her 18th birthday in a premeditated act by her former long-time boyfriend because he believed she was cheating on him, the court heard.
“He murdered her because she didn’t show the respect he believed he was entitled to, because he believed she had made a fool of him in the eyes of his friends,” said Crown lawyer Sandra Cunningham.
Court heard that on the day of the slaying, Mr. Singh did not go to work but instead asked a friend to drive him to find Ms. Randhawa, who had recently ended a two-year relationship with Mr. Singh.
They finally spotted her that afternoon in a friend’s car, and he demanded she come talk to him inside the vehicle. The friend, who obtained an immunity agreement from police, recalled a loud and confrontational conversation between the pair that concluded with Mr. Singh half-standing over the teen threatening to shoot.
There was a single bang, and the sound of shattering glass.
“He could hear the air coming through the broken side window, he could smell blood in the car. He looked in his rear view window but couldn’t see Poonam,” Ms. Cunningham said.
They drove off. Mr. Singh was completely calm.
“[Mr. Singh] never went into the back seat or touched Poonam,” she said. “He never checked to see if she was still alive. He had the gun in his hand. He told [the friend] that he really loved her and was thinking of marrying her.”
About 30 members of the victim’s family attended Wednesday’s sentencing hearing.
Harry Randhawa told reporters outside court that the evidence of his cousin’s bravery before she died wasn’t a surprise.
“That was our cousin, that was our little sister, she was fearless,” he said in reaction to learning her final words. “She’s not somebody who had a problem standing up to a bully, even in a situation like this where she was stalked, she was … intimidated by another person, she still stood her ground and unfortunately she lost her life.”
He said they’re hoping for the maximum possible penalty, adding there is never an excuse for killing another human being.
Court heard that following the shooting, Mr. Singh put the gun in a McDonald’s bag, containing a receipt showing the man used his debit card, and tossed it into some bushes. He and his friend stopped in an empty alleyway, and Mr. Singh pushed out the teen’s body.
The pair went to another friend’s house, where he obtained cash and a ride across the border to Seattle. Mr. Singh didn’t return to Canada until he was extradited after his arrest.
The judge heard that Mr. Singh’s family allegedly knew all the details of his whereabouts, and even spent $150,000 so he could obtain fake identification that allowed him to assume an alias and social security number.
“Every single member of his family claimed to have no idea where he was,” Ms. Cunningham said.
He kept in contact with surreptitious phone calls to friends, three of whom drove down to California and tried to persuade him to return to Canada six months later. Mr. Singh refused, claiming he wouldn’t get a fair trial because the media portrayed him as a stalker.
In later years, Mr. Singh’s mother flew to California and spent one month with him and his new wife who had given birth to two daughters.
Police had been investigating heavily in the years after the murder but it tapered off for a time. In 2006, they revived the file and authorized numerous undercover operators to attempt to infiltrate the family.
In summer, 2011, they targeted his half-brother, who boasted to people he thought were new friends that his brother was on America’s Most Wanted for killing his “fiancee.”
At the time, the family was also attempting to secure funds and a doctor to perform an operation that would alter Mr. Singh’s fingerprints. They believed that would destroy the only characteristic that could give him away.
In 1998, he had been arrested while working briefly as a gas station attendant in Los Angeles for threatening a customer with a gun. At that time, a set of fingerprints was taken. While living in the U.S., Mr. Singh’s appearance changed dramatically. His weight ballooned to 300 pounds, he grew a large, bushy beard and began wearing a turban.
Information from the half-brother led police to a telephone number at a home in Riverside County, Calif. On pretence, one officer pulled him over as he drove a truck for work and obtained a thumbprint. Speedy analysis showed a match, leading officers to pull him over in a car driven by his young wife, with their two babies in tow.
They found thousands of dollars in cash, four social security documents and her citizenship papers in a child’s diaper bag.
At first, asked his name by police, he gave his fake identity. But eventually he said his real name.
“She was seeing two other guys,” he told the officer when asked if he knew he was wanted for murder of Ms. Randhawa in Canada.