Trials for Richmond Hill suspects set for summer 2014

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 4, 2013)– The Richmond Hill insurance fraud and murder conspiracy case promises to be a logistical challenge for Marion Superior Judge Sheila Carlisle, who is faced with protecting the rights of three defendants without breaking the county’s budget and wearing out witnesses.

During a pre-trial hearing, Judge Carlisle told attorneys representing Mark Leonard, Bob Leonard and Monserrate Shirley that they had until Dec. 27 to respond to a prosecutor’s motion that the defendants be tried in one big courtroom in front of two or three juries.

“You would have to go to either a high school or…one of the universities,” said Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson. “I suppose, a library….there are a number of places, I suppose, that would have auditoriums large enough to accommodate.”

When Judge Carlisle approved Mark Leonard and Shirley’s motions for severance, she set the stage for multiple trials.

Leonard and Shirley have indicated they may blame each other for the fatal explosion Nov. 10, 2012, in the Richmond Hill neighborhood.

Two neighbors died in what prosecutors have painted as a scheme intended to defraud an insurance company and get Shirley out of debt.

Bob Leonard has not indicated what his defense will be.

Robinson said that concurrent trials, where multiple juries are seated but shuffled out of the courtroom during conflicting testimony, have be held successfully in other states with the approval of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The defendants’ constitutional rights are still protected as they’ve alleged but, nonetheless, with the large number of witnesses and the large amount of evidence in this case, we would be incurring costs only once instead of three times.”

Robinson estimates she has a witness list of 250 people and a “couple thousand,” pieces of potential evidence to introduce.

By comparison, the recently completed three week long David Bisard case had 80 witnesses, 250 pieces of evidence and was held in Fort Wayne due to pre-trial publicity. The trial cost Marion County at least $60,000 but Allen County has not yet submitted all its bills for reimbursement.

The Richmond Hill trials are set to begin June 16, 2014, though Mark Leonard’s attorneys indicated they doubt that timetable will be met.

Prosecutors would like to try Mark Leonard first as they believe not only was he the driving force behind the alleged scheme but he is also accused of trying to have a witness killed in phone calls from inside the Marion County Jail.

Robinson said concurrent trials could last two months, but separate trials could last six weeks apiece.

Judge Carlisle must still rule on the concurrent trials motion, a motion to force an Indianapolis television station to surrender the outtakes of an interview it did with Shirley’s ex-husband John Shirley and a request to move the case out of Marion County because of pre-trial publicity.

“The judge has said…even if it’s a change of venue case, the juries would be coming from another county here,” said Robinson, “so, she has seemed to indicate the even if its granted, the trial will be held here.”

The three suspects are being held without bond.

They will all return to court for another pre-trial hearing March 5, 2014.

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