INDIANAPOLIS – The Marion County prosecutor met a deadline to convince a judge to try the three suspects in the Richmond Hill tragedy together instead of separating the cases.
In August, Judge Shelia Carlisle told the state it had until Sept. 20 to respond to Monserrate Shirley and Mark Leonard’s motions for severance.
The third defendant, Robert Leonard, has not filed for such a severance.
Shirley argued in early August that she was a victim of Mark Leonard’s abuse and manipulation and had no knowledge of his alleged insurance scheme to blow up her home and collect $300,000 in a settlement and therefore should not be tried by his side.
Two neighbors died, dozens of homes were damaged and losses totaled $4 million in the Nov. 11, 2012, explosion that investigators determined was intentional.
Leonard himself filed for severance two weeks later, claiming he and Shirley will mount “antagonistic defenses” against each other, indicating they could potentially blame one other for the blast.
The motion indicates that Leonard’s defense will be “there is no proof that the explosion was not accidental” while Shirley’s defense will allege “the evil Leonard brothers committed these acts to gain a windfall from insurance proceeds and Shirley knew nothing about their plan.”
“(A)llowing Mark Leonard’s jury to hear a litany of dirty deeds and uncharged misconduct substantially impinges and unfairly prejudices his right to a fair trial,” reads the motion filed by Leonard’s attorneys.
Key to the state’s case will be statements half-brother Bob Leonard allegedly made to his son, Justin Leonard, about “Uncle Mark.”
Justin described spotting Mark Leonard’s white van at Bob Leonard’s house after the explosion.
A Richmond Hill neighbor told police he spotted a van resembling Leonard’s in the driveway of 8349 Fieldfare Way the afternoon of the explosion and spotted a man who resembled Bob Leonard removing boxes from the house.
“Uncle Mark’s house exploded, this is what was salvaged,” Justin told investigators his father said. Justin said he then removed golf clubs, two totes and a briefcase containing mortgage and insurance documents from the vehicle.
“’I need you to take it home with you because I ain’t got room for it,’” Justin quoted his father as saying.
“When I seen that news story…about the white van it kinda all started coming together,” Leonard told detectives during an interview nine days after the blast. “As time goes by…stuff hasn’t been adding up to me.”
Justin said he confronted Bob Leonard about the explosion and the potential evidence in the white van.
“He still kept saying, ‘I don’t know nothing about it. I don’t know nothing about it.’”
Mark Leonard argues that his ability to cross examine Bob Leonard about this alleged conversation will be negated if the two men are sitting side-by-side at the defense table.
Leonard also argues that if he is convicted during the penalty phase of the trial, he will allude to his upbringing and life experiences, which his co-defendant and half-brother was present for and perhaps complicit in or the accounts of the brothers would be contradictory to each other.
In his motion for severance, Leonard also refers to statements given by two Indianapolis firefighters to investigators.
Fireman Brian Hedrick described a neighborhood partially leveled as he arrived on the scene minutes after the explosion.
Firefighter Russell Futrell told detectives that an injured teenager told him, “her and her mom had smelled gas…the last couple days or for some time.” Futrell said he told his chief to relay the information to arson investigators within an hour of the explosion.
Hedrick and Futrell will be deposed by defense attorneys in October, as will Justin Leonard and several other people connected to the Leonard family.
Also to be deposed are Glen Hults and Mark Duckworth.
When questioned by police nearly a month after the explosion, Hults said “I hadn’t seen this guy in ten years” when he was asked about Bob Leonard.
Duckworth told police he didn’t know Bob Leonard “at all.”
Those references in Mark Leonard’s motion appear in passages where he states that the prosecutor claims “Bob and an unidentified person went to Mark and Monserrate’s home and either opened the gas valve, cut the gas line, manipulated the thermostat and/or placed a cylinder in the microwave and programmed it for some time later to ignite. This was done at a time when Mark and Monserrate were at a casino, Monseratte’s daughter was at Glen Hults’ home, and Monserrate’s cat was at the groomers/boarders.”
Twenty two people are slated to give depositions to the defense in October, including neighbors whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the blast.
Recent filings also refer to the interception of electronic communications, which could include listening devices planted on property or in communication devices frequented by the defendants, and raw tape of a recent television interview with John Shirley, Monserrate’s ex-husband.
The state also indicates it is awaiting final reports from IFD and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on the explosion.
In the response to Shirley and Mark Leonard’s motions filed today, the State argues that Leonard’s claim of antagonistic defenses fails because “there is not a constitutional right to be protected from damaging evidence.”
As for Leonard’s argument that Shirley’s allegations of abuse could prejudice the jury during a potential sentencing phase of the trial, the state asserts that Leonard, if convicted, could be sentenced before Shirley and her allegations would not figure into the jury’s decision.
“Mark Leonard seems to think he can fill in the blanks,” reads the state’s response about the defendant’s argument that “there is no proof that the explosion was not accidental.” Prosecutors dismiss Leonard’s theory as ambiguous.
The state indicates it does not intend to introduce evidence about Leonard’s previous insurance fraud schemes that were disclosed previously and therefore Leonard’s fear of Shirley’s disclosure of other “dirty deeds” is negated.
Prosecutors agree that if the court rules Justin Leonard’s comments about Bob Leonard’s knowledge of his half-brother’s white van and the evidence inside is inadmissible against any of the defendants, it could drop the evidence, as it could do with statements Leonard allegedly made the week before the blast about an earlier attempt to blow up the home.
The state argues that if a single jury cannot fairly hear the cases against all three defendants, one big trial with three juries could be held.
“Nearly all of the evidence to be produced at trial will be admissible against all three defendants,” reads the motion.
“The State has alleged that the defendants in this case acted in concert and are culpable based upon theories of accomplice liability and as co-conspirators with conspiracy counts charged,” reads the prosecutor’s response. “Their collaboration resulted in the death of two innocent people, injuries to numerous others, and many homes being destroyed.”
Many of the state’s responses to the Leonard motion for severance are duplicate in the Shirley motion.