A prison inmate who has admitted participating in the ambush and stabbing attack on controversial radio host Harnek Singh sat in the witness box again today as lawyers for his former co-defendants took turns attacking his credibility.
Jaspal Singh, 42, has been testifying in the High Court at Auckland since Thursday. The bulk of the first two days of testimony consisted of his unchallenged account of what happened during and leading up to the December 23, 2020, politically motivated murder attempt.
He told jurors he and others were recruited to attack the radio host by a defendant who has name suppression. But defence lawyer Dale Dufty, acting on behalf of the man with name suppression, suggested during cross-examination the witness was lying in a bid to get out of prison as soon as possible.
“Your evidence implicating [the defendant with name suppression] over the past two days is nothing but a lie, isn’t it,” Dufty taunted, eliciting a “no” from the witness.
“My knife dropped. My DNA was there. I was done,” the witness said of his decision to plead guilty and cooperate with police.
Dufty suggested the man came clean about his misdeeds “only because you had to”.
“Well, I reckon the rest should too,” Jaspal Singh replied. “I’ve been in jail for nearly two years. I’m doing my bit.”
Prosecutors allege seven men committed attempted murder by either planning the attack, directly participating in it or offering aid and encouragement. The victim suffered dozens of stab wounds but miraculously survived after his red ute was rammed as he pulled into the driveway of his Wattle Downs home. An eighth man has been charged with being an accessory after the fact.
Three of the men have pleaded guilty, including witness Jaspal Singh - the first to do so. Co-defendants Hardeep Singh Sandhu, 30, and Sarvjeet Sidhu, 27, followed suit late last month - on the eve of the current trial.
The remaining defendants, all of whom have pleaded not guilty, include Jobanpreet Singh, who is accused of directly participating in the attack alongside the witness; Jagraj Singh and Gurbinder Singh, who allegedly followed the radio host in a Toyota Prius, offering encouragement or support to the attackers; the man with name suppression alleged to have orchestrated the attempted hit; and Sukhpreet Singh, who allegedly welcomed two of the bloody attackers into his home to clean up after the incident.
Defence lawyer Dufty suggested during cross-examination that the witness was prone to a violent temper on his own - without needing to be influenced by others. He suggested that cellphone polling data made certain aspects of the witness’ account difficult to swallow. For instance, his phone did not ping near the home of the man with name suppression in the week before the attack, despite Jaspal Singh saying he met with the man there when he was first recruited to participate.
The witness said during that meeting he was given the impression he would serve as a getaway driver for two men on a stolen motorbike who would pull up to the radio host’s vehicle and open fire. On the day of the attack, however, he said the plan changed significantly and he learned that he would he participating directly in the hit.
“Seems a bit silly, doesn’t it, that plan?” Dufty said of the motorbike shooting described by the witness.
“Ask your client. He made it up,” the witness responded dryly.
“No, you made it up,” Dufty said, adding later: “You weren’t acting under his command - this is something you did yourself.”
“No, that’s not true,” the witness responded. “But yes, I did do it.”
Lawyers for three of the five defendants currently on trial have questioned the witness so far, each of them noting that Jaspal Singh received a significant discount off his sentence because he cooperated with police. With the discount, he will soon be up for parole.
Jaspal Singh said each time the subject was brought up that he couldn’t be blamed for having a good lawyer.
“He got the best possible outcome for me because I said I done it,” he said.
Lawyer Katie Hogan, who represents the man charged with being an accessory after the fact, noted that the witness had 32 criminal convictions, including lying to police. The witness told jurors on Friday that her client, Sukhpreet Singh, allowed him to hide his SUV in his garage after the attack but the vehicle didn’t fit and he accidentally put a hole in the man’s wall.
The witness laughed today when it was suggested he had previously known about the hole, which existed prior to the attack, and that he mentioned it to police to make his false allegation against Sukhpreet Singh sound more plausible.
“You were the ringleader and main offender in this attack against Harnek?” she asked.
“No, I wasn’t the ringleader,” he responded.
“It appeases your guilt to implicate others and bring them down with you,” Hogan suggested. “You were angered by receiving what you saw as a lack of support after you were charged and held in custody.”
The witness denied those suggestions as well.
Jaspal Singh’s testimony is expected to stretch into a fourth day when the trial resumes tomorrow before Justice Mark Wolford and the jury.
Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the US and New Zealand.