BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — As a respected elder, Jagjit Singh was sought by others in the Sikh community for advice on matters of faith and culture.
They’ll have to visit him in prison for further guidance.
Singh, 68, was sentenced Friday to 35 years to life in prison for gunning down his daughter-in-law after an argument where Singh said she dishonored him by threatening to pull his beard.
Following sentencing, Singh attorney David A. Torres called the case a tragedy on all sides.
“Jagjit Singh was a pillar in his religious community and a stellar citizen who devoted his time to helping and feeding the homeless,” Torres said. “Those good deeds were recognized by the court in fashioning the sentence.”
Torres’ co-counsel, Navraj S. Rai, said Singh’s actions were a result of how he was provoked and had nothing to do with the idea of an honor killing, which he said simply does not exist within the Sikh faith nor the Punjabi community.
He said, “It’s unfortunate that the tragedy has been spun to make this an honor killing instead of calling it what it is: A series of unfortunate events.”
On the morning of Aug. 26, 2019, police were called to a home on Monache Meadows Drive in southwest Bakersfield. They found Sumandeep Kaur Kooner dead on a sofa, shot three times at close range.
Torres and Rai argued at trial Singh tried to counsel Kooner, 37, after overhearing a phone call the day before in which she talked about leaving the family. Singh, his wife, Kooner, her husband and their children lived together.
As they argued, Kooner told Singh to mind his own business. She told him, “I’ll pull off your beard and shove it up your (expletive),” Torres said. An enraged Singh acted in the heat of the moment and killed her, the attorney said.
A Punjabi cultural expert testified hair is very important among Sikhs, and cutting the beard of a Sikh against their will would be considered an act of sacrilege. He said Kooner’s words constituted a grave insult.
Prosecutor Kara Thompson, however, said Singh did not immediately act when insulted. She said he took time to consider his actions, left the room and retrieved a revolver and loaded it before returning to Kooner.
The first shot entered the back of Kooner’s neck as she lay on a sofa, Thompson said. Singh walked around the sofa and shot her twice more at “extremely close range,” both rounds entering her neck, the prosecutor said.
When first responders arrived, Singh told them, “I shoot,” according to court documents. A loaded revolver was found on the dining room table with three spent casings inside.
Kooner’s blood was on the revolver and Singh’s clothing, Thompson said. The gun was registered to him.
Singh told police he either had to kill himself or Kooner due to her “dishonoring of him,” according to court documents.