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Jurors in Richmond Hill Trial hear about Mark Leonard’s “hit man” plot

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (July 2, 2015) – A day after a South Bend jury heard from one admitted felon, it met another who told jurors the lead conspirator in the Richmond Hill case allegedly conspired to have a key witness against him murdered.

Live blog: Go inside the courtroom with FOX59.

Mark Leonard is accused of planning the explosion at ex-girlfriend Monserrate Shirley's house that killed two people and caused more than four million dollars in losses to the neighborhood.

Shirley, Leonard and his half-brother, Bob Leonard, Jr., were arrested six weeks after the 2012 blast and charged with murder, arson, conspiracy and insurance fraud.

Denise Robinson (left) Monserrate Shirley (center) and Judge John Marnocha (right) (Sketch by Dave Blodgett)

Denise Robinson (left) Monserrate Shirley (center) and Judge John Marnocha (right) (Sketch by Dave Blodgett)

Shirley testified Wednesday to put the conception and execution of the fatal conspiracy square in the lap of her former lover.

Several months later, while housed inside the Marion County Jail, Leonard is accused of conspiring to hire a "hit man" to have a witness killed.

During the initial explosion investigation, Mark Duckworth had told detectives that Leonard bragged to him about his fire and explosion scheme and that he hoped to soon come into a big score.

Corey McGriff, a former Marion County Sheriff's Deputy, identified a letter passed to him by a jailhouse informant that contained a map indicating the location of Duckworth's house.

Investigators determined Leonard wrote that letter as part of his plot to have Duckworth killed and passed it on to another inmate, Robert Smith, who was an informant for jail deputies.

Before the jury was seated, the Defense attempted to block the informant's testimony and simultaneously introduce evidence that Smith provided Leonard with illicit prescription drugs inside the jail.

Leonard's team had requested the transportation of two offenders from the Indiana Department of Correction who had served inside the Marion County Jail in early 2013 and could shed led on the Defendant's drug use and state of mind at the time of the "hit man plot," but one inmate send word that he wouldn't testify voluntarily, and if called to the stand, his story would actually be harmful to Leonard.

Mark Leonard (Sketch by Dave Blodgett)

Mark Leonard (Sketch by Dave Blodgett)

Defense Attorney David Shircliff told the Court he would permit Leonard to testify, out of the presence of the jury, for the limited purpose of indicating his access to prescription drugs and their effect on him inside the jail.

Once Judge John Marnocha ruled that the "hit man plot" and Leonard's drug use would be permitted into evidence, the Defense dropped the inmates from its witness list.

"It's flat out admissible," the judge said regarding the testimony about the conspiracy to attempt murder charge. "Threats to kill a witness are relevant and indicative of guilty knowledge."

Judge Marnocha also indicated he had listened to the taped jailhouse phone conversations and found that Leonard was cognizant of what he was asking the informant and an undercover federal agent, masquerading as a biker, to do.

After lunch, Smith was sworn in as the State's next witness.

Slight and balding, Smith slunk into the courtroom, dressed in a black hoodie, sitting down in the witness chair before taking the oath from Judge Marnocha to, "tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

Jurors examined Smith's criminal record dating back to 1982, explaining his theft convictions as, "I buy merchandise at a cheap price," to laughter in the courtroom.

Smith said while in the maximum security wing of the Marion County Jail he struck up conversations with Leonard in late 2012 after the conspirators were arrested.

"He was telling me stuff about that and about the explosion," said Smith. "I don't know but they do it all the time."

Smith said that Leonard told him he was drunk the day of the explosion and drove to a casino where he would be known and identified and spotted on surveillance cameras.

Leonard and Shirley were at the Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg when the explosion occurred.

Smith said Leonard told him his half-brother Bob was supposed to step on a gas line at Shirley's house and crack it, supposedly to introduce natural gas into the house, but instead the line was broken.

Robert "Bob" Leonard Jr. (left) returns to jail from the City-County Building after entering a not guilty plea on Dec. 24, 2012, in the arraignment for the fatal Richmond Hill blast.  Kelly Wilkinson/The Star

Robert "Bob" Leonard Jr. (left) returns to jail from the City-County Building after entering a not guilty plea on Dec. 24, 2012, in the arraignment for the fatal Richmond Hill blast. Kelly Wilkinson/The Star

The informant testified that Leonard also indicated that a microwave oven would be utilized in the plot and that Bob Leonard, Jr., closed the drapes on the windows at Shirley's house where he arrived in his half-brothers white van, all details that dovetail with the State's case.

Smith said Leonard expected a $300,000 insurance policy payoff after the explosion.

Leonard was consistently reading documents on his case in his jail cell, said Smith, and occasionally exclaiming, "Here's a witness against me, too! Damn!"

Duckworth was a marked man, said Smith, because Leonard claimed, "he was lying and setting him up and trying to get him in prison for the rest of his life and he wanted him killed."

Smith said as an ex-member of the Aryan Brotherhood and an acquaintance of the members of the Cherry Riders motorcycle riders of the Mars Hill community that he could make arrangements for a hit man, and Leonard said he would be willing to pay.

The informant contacted a jail deputy who put him in touch with the Richmond Hill detectives who arranged to have Leonard call a hit man who turned out to be an undercover federal agent to arrange the killing.

Smith identified a map and promissory note signed by Leonard to facilitate the murder-for-hire plot.

"Wow," said Shircliff when it came time for cross-examination. "So the jury just heard you tell them that my client tried to kill a witness."

"That's correct," said Smith.

Shircliff then tried to shake Smith from his testimony that he never shared his prescription medicines in the jail with Leonard and then played a tape of a phone call between the inmate and his girlfriend.

"I gave them away, too," the jurors heard Smith say on the tape, explaining the various medications he was prescribed. "Ain't never took none of 'em."

Smith testified that he lied to his girlfriend and never shared medicine with Leonard.

Shircliff referred to Smith as a "snitch," though the witness admitted that he received no money for his cooperation with the prosecution and received some consideration on a theft and escape case he was currently facing.

The defense attorney offered to play a tape of Smith on a telephone call to his girlfriend, bragging that he would receive a big payoff, perhaps coverage on the local news and his own television sitcom as a result of his cooperation in the Leonard investigation.

"I sure would like to hear the sitcom," Smith said to laughter in the courtroom while admitting that some other parts of his grandiose dream might be true.

Leaving the stand, hustled out of the courtroom by police detectives, Smith speculated he might appear on "Jerry Springer."

Earlier in the day, Judge Marnocha turned down yet one more Defense motion for a mistrial

Monserrate Shirley testified Wednesday that Leonard told her he had disposed of a "step down valve" in such a way that it would never be found.

Maxitrol gas regulator

Maxitrol gas regulator

Earlier jurors heard evidence that a Maxitrol or step down regulator had been removed from the gas manifold attached to the external meter at Shirley's house before the explosion.

The regulator controls the amount of natural gas that can be introduced into a home.

Shirley said she did not know what a "step down valve" was.

Leonard's attorneys argued the State violated their client's due process right to a fair trial by not revealing Shirley's testimony about her ex-boyfriend's admission of destroying evidence.

"If the Court had some teeth," argued Shircliff, the Prosecution would have more incentive to provide Leonard's side with evidence revealed during the discovery process.

Judge Marnocha denied the Motion, observing that the Defense became aware of Shirley's claim during a deposition that was given following her agreement to plead guilty and testify against her co-conspirators.

The Court has turned down multiple Motions for Mistrial filed by the Defense on that basis that unknown or prejudicial evidence had violated Leonard's rights or would have altered his team's opening statement to jurors.

Jeremy Godspeed (Sketch by Dave Blodgett)

Jeremy Godspeed (Sketch by Dave Blodgett)

Jeremy Godsave, a Special Agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, testified that after the Leonard letter surfaced, he was brought into the investigation and immediately determined that the threat on Duckworth's life was a legitimate worry for law enforcement.

"I was going to play the hit man in the murder for hire," said Godsave who then testified that he provided Smith a phone number for Leonard to call and ask for "Jay."

Godsave said he received phone calls from Leonard from inside the Marion County Jail on March 13 and 14 of 2013.

"This call is from a corrections facility and subject to monitoring," was the automated audio warning on the phone call tape.

What followed is a five-minute long phone call between the mastermind of the Richmond Hill tragedy and an ATF agent masquerading as a hired killer.

"It's hard to get into a bunch on the phone, you know," said Leonard. "I wish I wasn't in this predicament, you know."

Leonard then gave the agent specific instructions on how to find Duckworth's house on the southwest side of Indianapolis, including a description of the intended victim's truck.

"He's a homebody and everything and stays home a lot and doesn't have friend one in the world so nobody would be showing up," Leonard said. "He's a loner."

Godsave then ended the first call by offering Leonard a chance to think over his decision and confirm it during a second call the next day.

Leonard said, "It will get me out of here."

Throughout the playing of the calls, Leonard remained stoic at the defense table, his chin resting in his left hand, staring down at the tabletop.

During the next call, Leonard told the agent what he wanted Duckworth to say when he called a 911 operator before being killed.

"I want him to say, 'I did not mean to frame Mark and Moncy for their own house in Richmond Hill.'"

"'The large amounts of money he leaves lying around, that's what bought a lot of drugs and whores.'"

A FOX59 camera captured images of Monserrate Shirley and Mark Leonard after the blast.

A FOX59 camera captured images of Monserrate Shirley and Mark Leonard after the blast.

Leonard is heard chuckling on the tape at that last statement, claiming that Duckworth had stolen money from him and often saw him with, "$50,000, $60,000" at his house.

The agent is then heard telling Leonard, "Once you get out get you a clean phone and I better be the first guy you call."

The jurors heard a redacted version of the telephone tape.

In the Probable Cause Affidavit charging Leonard with the conspiracy to kill Duckworth, investigators refer to the preceding conversation between the defendant and the agent in which Leonard tells the "Hit Man" to force his victim to call a 911 operator, announce he is remorseful and suicidal and then have Duckworth killed during the call, leaving the impression of suicide.

Due to a disagreement between the Prosecution and the Defense, jurors did not hear the earlier portion of the call. Instead, the only reference to the murder is Leonard's advice to the agent to have Duckworth read those statements before he does, "it."

The Defense did not cross-examine Godsave and Judge Marnocha recessed the trial for the holiday weekend.