I-Team 8

Judge rejects defense strategy from Richmond Hill suspect

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A judge has rejected several potential defense strategies made by attorneys for one of the suspects in the 2012 south side explosion case. Mark Leonard’s trial will not be split into two parts, nor will witness testimony be consolidated, according to court documents obtained by I-Team 8.

The rulings, made this week by St. Joseph Superior Court Judge John Marnocha, followed a hearing Friday where Leonard appeared in court for the first time since his former girlfriend, Monserrate Shirley, made an ‘about face’ and agreed to tell investigators about his alleged role in the explosion at Richmond Hill.

Leonard and Shirley are accused, along with Bob Leonard, Jr. and Gary Thompson, of setting the November 2012 explosion that killed Dion and Jennifer Longworth and damaged or destroyed more than 80 homes.

Shirley’s testimony resulted in the arrest last month of Thompson, the so-called fourth suspect in the case.

Her testimony also initially prompted Mark Leonard’s lead defense attorney Diane Black to call for his trial to be postponed. She withdrew that request Friday, prompting Judge Marnocha to issue an order this week setting the trial date for June 6 in South Bend.

Black also requested the judge to order prosecutors to present scientific evidence related to Leonard’s arson charges first, ahead of what they called ‘character evidence’ related to the alleged plot to blow up Shirley’s home to collect insurance money. That would prevent ‘prejudice’ from the jury, Black argued.

“That has no basis in law,” Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson responded following the hearing. “They say that to prove arson we can only use science evidence and not use any other type of evidence, which would be similar in a standard murder case to saying we can only put the pathologist on first to prove how a person was killed before we could talk about any other we had as to how a person was killed. And, that’s just something that’s not done.”

Judge Marnocha denied the request without explanation in an order issued Monday.

Marnocha also denied a second request from Leonard’s attorneys to limit testimony from witnesses, including a number of Richmond Hill neighbors who could be called to testify at trial about the losses they suffered due to the explosion.

Repetitive testimony could “invoke unfair sympathy, prejudicing defendant and impugning any following conviction,” Black wrote in her motion. She asked the judge Friday to order such testimony to be consolidated, which he denied in a separate order Monday, noting only that “length of testimony will be evaluated” and that he would not allow the trial to stretch on into eight weeks.

Prosecutors have previously estimated that each trial would take six weeks to complete.

Judge Marnocha also issued rulings on several other outstanding motions in Leonard’s case. One such ruling denied an attempt from his attorneys to limit the amount that prosecutors can pay for expert witness testimony related to the explosion. Leonard’s attorneys noted their own budget caps on expert witness payments through the Marion County Public Defenders officers.

They also argued that some of the expert testimony might mislead the jury.

The judge did agree to grant language changes requested by prosecutors to one of Leonard’s 52 arson charges. Robinson described the request as a ‘technical correction.’

Mark Leonard is scheduled to return to court in Marion County for a hearing on that request on March 18. Gary Thompson is scheduled to return to court on April 1. Bob Leonard’s case was ordered to be moved to Allen County last week, although no court dates have been scheduled in Bob Leonard’s case yet.