Jury selection nearly complete in Richmond Hill case

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Mark Leonard

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (June 6, 2015) — 12 jurors and four alternates have been chosen to sit in judgment of Mark Leonard as Opening Statements have been set for early next week in the Richmond Hill case.

Two more alternates must be chosen Monday morning in St. Joseph Superior Judge John Marnocha’s courtroom before the trial begins.

“I know we’re asking for an incredible time commitment from these people and the fact that they’re willing to come and sit means a lot,” said Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson who will present the State’s case during the expected six-week-long trial.

“We had some people who said it would be an honor to serve and we are happy to have them,” said Diane Black, Chief Trial Deputy of the Marion County Public Defenders Office. “I mean we have to try this jury and think, day-to-day, we did get a very open-minded panel, but they’ve yet to hear that one damning piece of evidence and so we are yet to see.”

“That one damning piece of evidence,” Black referred to is the allegation she stunned the entire courtroom with Thursday afternoon that served to derail the first day of jury selection.

Following his arrest as the lead co-conspirator in the Richmond Hill explosion that killed two neighbors, damaged 80 homes and caused more than $4 million in losses in 2012, Leonard is accused of launching a murder-for-hire plot from inside the Marion County Jail.

A federal undercover agent and a jailhouse informant will testify that Leonard arranged for the murder of a key witness in the case.

Black and co-counsel David Shircliff have argued unsuccessfully that evidence of the “Hit Man Plot” is so “damning” that it threatens Leonard’s guarantee of a fair trial and an unbiased jury.

To illustrate her point, Black, in slow measured tones, opened Thursday’s session with the first jury pool by announcing that her client had been charged with trying to have a man killed as she described her own dismay at mounting a defense.

By the end of the day, a majority of potential jurors who either came to their own conclusions or followed the lead of other prospective panelists cited doubts about Leonard’s innocence in the wake of the “Hit Man” allegations were dismissed and Judge Marnocha announced the entire pool would be scrapped.

“The proverbial cat is out of the bag,” said the judge as he told the defense team Friday morning he recognized their tactic as an attempt to circumvent his rulings to permit the murder-for-hire evidence into the trial.

Judge Marnocha then cautioned the defense from raising the issue, or coverage of it in the South Bend media, during Day 2 of jury selection. As a result, the second day moved much quicker and a majority of the jury was selected.

“Quite a few people had said they watched the local media, they had read on the internet the Indianapolis media and they had heard about the hit man, read up about the details of the case, no one said anything about that today,” said Shircliff after court Friday. “We were told we could not ask about media, we could not ask about pre-trial publicity and if we asked about it, or if we believed there was a challenge for cause specifically related to the hit man information, we were told by the judge it would be denied.”

Prospective jurors in the earlier Friday panels indicated their unwillingness to serve on the jury or the personal hardship that would result from such service, but as the day wore on, and succeeding candidates viewed the interviews of those who came before them, potential jurors seem to warm to the task at hand and their answers reflected more thoughtful involvement.

“I certainly respected a couple of the jurors maybe epitomized that when they said that even after they had sat there all day, they felt it would be an honor to be on a jury, that it was part of their duty and they felt honored, and I really appreciate that,” said Robinson.

“We do believe we found a fair panel of jurors,” said Shircliff. “We do appreciate the effort they put into it and the openness they shared during trial. You were all there. I felt they were as honest as they could be in such a high-profile media intensive environment.”

Stay tuned to CBS4 Indy and follow our live blogs written in the courtroom for the latest on this case.