Judge rejects Bob Leonard Jr.’s attempt to fire attorneys

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Dec. 15, 2015)-- Bob Leonard Jr. is on trial for his life, accused of setting off the fatal Richmond Hill blast that rocked the south side of Indianapolis and killed two people in the fall of 2012. He wants to fire his attorneys and represent himself in court, but a Ft. Wayne judge said, “No.”

Leonard asked Allen Superior Judge Frances Gull to “reactivate” his withdrawn Pro Se motion to dismiss attorneys Mark Inman and Ted Minch so that he might defend himself.

“You’re not happy with your access,” Judge Gull told Leonard after he complained in a pre-trial hearing that Inman and Minch had not fully briefed him on the State’s case. “You are being given the best counsel you can have."

“You are not able to represent yourself,” said the judge. “There’s not much more that I can do.”

“I’m trying to defend myself here,” countered Leonard. “I haven’t seen a transcript of the Mark Leonard trial.”

The Leonard brothers were charged along with three other people of blowing up the home of Monserrate Shirley in an attempt to collect a $300,000 home insurance payout.

Mark Leonard was convicted of conceiving a plan to fill the house with natural gas and set off an explosion utilizing a timer on a microwave oven.

Prosecutors claim Bob Leonard Jr. was in charge of setting that timer on the afternoon of November 10, 2012.

Jennifer and Dion Longworth, Shirley’s neighbors, died in the blast.

Leonard argued that he wanted to be moved from the Marion County Jail to a suburban facility so that he might better review his case, that when his lawyers arrive for jail visits armed with documents, “I get to see it five minutes, ten minutes,” before the paperwork is taken away so that it might not be stolen by another inmate or someone wishing to sabotage his defense.

Leonard also said he has been denied the opportunity to view thousands of evidence photographs, read depositions or lab reports or attend a hearing on moving his trial to Fort Wayne.

“That’s not true Mr. Leonard,” Judge Gull responded. “You have seen evidence with your attorneys.

“I’m not going to argue with you, sir, on what you have and have not seen.”

The judge told Leonard that should he be convicted and sentenced to Life Without Parole, like his half-brother, undoubtedly there would be a higher court in Indiana that would review his trial in search of constitutional violations.

Ironically, Leonard’s argument that he was denied his constitutionally guaranteed access to legal counsel in the weeks after the blast formed the basis of a motion denied by Judge Gull.

Leonard was interviewed by detectives in the aftermath of the explosion before he was named as a co-conspirator.

Prosecutors said Leonard was advised he was not under arrest, was free to leave IMPD headquarters and stop the interview and could consult an attorney before answering anymore questions, but Leonard kept talking.

The Court found that Leonard never expressly invoked his right to counsel and Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson said those statements may be introduced before the jury.

“There’s not a lot, to be honest, in those statements, and I think we indicated that to the Court,” said Robinson, “that there wasn’t much we were seeking to get out of those statements in any event, but there are some admissions in terms of some acting together with his brother.”

He  faces the same murder, conspiracy, arson and insurance fraud charges as Mark Leonard.

“I don’t know of any issues between Bob Leonard and his own attorneys,” said Robinson when asked to assess the defendant’s agitated and grumbling appearance in court when he was clearly at odds with counsel. “What I do know is the evidence in this case will be against all conspirators. That does include evidence against Mark Leonard, Monserrate Shirley, Gary Thompson, but it also includes evidence against Bob Leonard.”

Thompson is accused of participating in at least previous unsuccessful attempt to destroy Shirley’s home and accompanying Bob Junior to the Fieldfare Way address the day of the explosion.

“But we also have witnesses that have evidence against Bob Leonard that was not admissible in the Mark Leonard trial that we will be bringing forth here so I would say 75 percent of it is pretty much identical but there are some differences,” said Robinson.

The State may also be able to introduce evidence of other past crimes it alleges Leonard committed.

“In this particular case there are some prior fraud allegations, insurance fraud allegations, against Bob Leonard and that would not be admissible in trial in its own right,” Robinson said, “but if, for example, he were to say, ‘I would never engage in this kind of conduct,’ or, ‘I would never do anything for insurance proceeds,’ then it would open the door.”

Minch and Inman refused comment after the hearing.

Leonard’s trial will begin January 19, 2016, and is expected to last six weeks.

One thousand potential jurors are listed to fill the 12 seats in the jury box as well as be named as one of the six alternates.

Robinson was asked if Leonard’s demeanor and combative attitude toward his lawyers indicated to her a defendant who might want to take the stand in his own defense.

“That’s up to him,” said Robinson. “I’ll be ready.”