INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - A friend of south side explosion suspect Monserrate Shirley said Wednesday she never saw any evidence that Shirley was being abused or controlled by her former boyfriend Mark Leonard. The comments came as Leonard, too, asked a judge to give him a separate trial.
Shirley, Leonard and his brother Bob Leonard, Jr. are charged with more than 50 counts of arson and two counts of murder in connection with last year’s deadly house explosion in the Richmond Hill subdivision.
All three appeared in court again Wednesday for a pre-trial hearing on charges that they set an explosion inside Shirley’s home in order to collect insurance money.
In court documents filed Friday, Shirley’s attorney, Jim Voyles, asked Judge Sheila Carlisle to “sever” her case, separating it from those of her co-defendants. The motion claims she cannot receive a fair trial if paired together with the Leonards. The 11-page narrative also claims Shirley was “trapped in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship with Mark Leonard,” and calls Shirley a naïve, controlled woman who blindly followed and trusted Leonard.
He was so abusive that she had “zero power over her own fate,” Voyles writes.
On Wednesday, Mark Leonard’s attorney, Deanna Martin, filed a separate severance motion, asking his trial to be separated as well. In that filing, Martin claims Leonard’s Sixth Amendment right to cross-examine his co-defendants would be violated if they are tried together. The filing states that additional justification for the motion would be filed at a later date.
On Wednesday, Judge Carlisle instructed Martin to file them by August 30, and gave prosecutors until September 20 to respond to both requests.
“I have said all along that we would object to severance and we will object,” said Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson. “The grounds for severance are very technical. And, we believe there can be a fair trial for each defendant, but that each defendant can be tried together.”
Prosecutors will “take issue” with many of the facts presented in Shirley’s motion, Robinson said. She declined to discuss specific objections, but said the logistics involved in three separate trials would be almost unprecedented for her office.
“My 2014 would be taken care of,” she said. “There are, conservatively, a couple hundred witnesses in the case. And, when you're talking about bringing a couple hundred witnesses in, particularly witnesses from out of state, having (separate) trials impacts not only our ability to do it, but obviously the cost.”
Many of the allegations included in Shirley’s filing would not be admissible at trial, Robinson said.
“So, under those circumstances, we'll file a response that deals with that,” she said.
Rulings on defense motions to reject the possibility of life without the possibility of parole sentences are now expected sometime in early September, Robinson added.
No additional rulings were made during Wednesday’s hearing, and attorneys for all three suspects declined to comment on the filings following it. Even without direct reaction from those trying the case, reaction to the filings was already growing outside the courtroom as the short hearing concluded.
Abby Jackson, who lived near Shirley’s home and called her a “friend,” said the characterization that Shirley was trapped in an abusive relationship was surprising.
“I didn’t see that [through our friendship],” Jackson said. “She told me Mark was taking care of her and she was good and money was good. She would have never admitted any of that.”
Jackson said she is attending hearings in the case in order to look her friend in the eye.
“I have a heart of loving and forgiving and I have a heart of mercy and grace. And, it's very hard. But, I also know that our neighborhood was turned upside down, and there are lives that are gone. I can understand hate and anger and all that stuff. And, I have frustration and anger and all that, [too].”
Jackson, who said she is frustrated with the slow pace of the pending trial, said she understands how large the case — or potentially cases — will be. While a June 2014 trial date looms, Judge Carlisle instructed all three defendants to return to court again in December for another hearing.
“It’s been slow,” Jackson said. “It’s been hard. I just pray for justice. And, I know it's in God's hands, not mine.”
Saturday morning, Wishard Memorial Hospital will close its doors.
Snow that moved through Central Indiana this week has wrapped up, leaving some areas with more than 10 inches of snow.
Free bags of salt will be available to the public Saturday after snow moved through Central Indiana this week.