VANCOUVER — More than 14 years after the body of a Vancouver high school student was dumped on a deserted street, her killer is finally facing justice.
Ninderjit Singh pleaded guilty Monday in B.C. Supreme Court to the second-degree murder of 18-year-old Poonam Randhawa.
The plea caps what was one of the longest manhunts in Vancouver police history, spanning at least two Canadian provinces and two U.S. states.
Defence counsel Russ Chamberlain said outside court that his client — who is not a Canadian citizen — will face a sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole for 10 years, and then deportation to India. “It’s a good result for the administration of justice,” said Chamberlain.
“It puts to bed a long investigation. It brings finality for the family and it brings certainty to the results of the police investigation and the criminal prosecution.”
Vancouver police held a news conference in August 2011 after Singh was arrested in California.
“We got him,” Deputy Police Chief Warren Lemcke told the media. “After years of searching, near-misses and heartbreaking attempts, we got him.” Lemcke described Randhawa as beautiful, with a bright smile and bubbly spirit. He said it was the young woman’s spirit that kept her parents going after losing their son to illness.
Randhawa was shot and killed in January 1999. They had been dating, but broke up after Singh assaulted her, court documents say. Her friends told police that Singh had been stalking Randhawa.
Randhawa’s body was found on Jan. 26, 1999, along what police have said was a deserted lane near Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School.
She had just turned 18.
Members of Randhawa’s family, police and prosecutors declined to comment following the plea on Monday.
The judge has set a sentencing hearing for March 27 and 28.
Chamberlain said the prosecution advised him Thursday they were willing to accept a second-degree murder plea from Singh, who had been initially charged with first-degree murder.
Chamberlain said he was in favour of the deal and advised Singh to take it, but it wasn’t until Monday morning that the former truck driver actually signed the papers.
“It was the right thing for him to do because I felt there was, on the evidence as I knew it, a substantial likelihood that he would be found guilty of first-degree murder,” said Chamberlain.
Chamberlain said his client fled first to Seattle, Washington, and then to California where he managed to live a double life as a truck driver.
The investigation took police to Calgary, and included a tactic, known as a Mr. Big sting, in which undercover operators posed as criminals to elicit information on Singh’s whereabouts, said Chamberlain, noting the effort was unsuccessful.
The case appeared on the TV show America’s Most Wanted.
But Singh eluded capture by altering his appearance, gaining weight, growing a beard and wearing a turban, police said.
His luck ran out in August 2011, when he was arrested while driving away from his home in Riverside County, California, about a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, with his wife and two young children.
Before the arrest, a highway patrol officer — who had been dispatched as part of a sting operation to pull over the man’s big rig and to issue a ticket — obtained thumb prints to confirm his identity.
Chamberlain said he doesn’t know how police tracked down his client, but noted the plea means Singh will also be lost to his wife and children because he will never be eligible to return to the U.S. where his family lives.
“He’s going to be separated from his wife and his children, and the only place he’s going to have a meaningful relationship with his wife or children will likely be in his home country which is the state of Punjab, India.” — With Vancouver Sun file