By Russ McQuaid
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (July 30, 2014)-- In a stunning development, Marion Superior Judge Shelia Carlisle approved defendant Mark Leonard's motion for a change of venue after the Marion County Prosecutor dropped its objection to moving the first Richmond Hill case out of Indianapolis.
The ruling came after three days of a change of venue hearing that saw dozens of potential test jurors questioned about their knowledge of the case and what they've learned from exposure to the media and private conversations.
The Court's ruling means that if Leonard's case comes to trial next year, it will be moved to another county in Indiana away from the Indianapolis media market or a jury from that city could be impaneled and transported to Indianapolis to sit in judgement of the man accused of masterminding the 2012 blast that killed two neighbors and caused $4 million in damages to a south side community.
Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson, who twice argued unsuccessfully Tuesday to end the hearing, reversed her position and dropped an objection to Leonard's motion at the beginning of the afternoon session.
Robinson said after reviewing questionnaires filled out by 125 potential test jurors, and interviewing dozens of them in the jury box, she noticed a pattern of answers that would have possibly led to a successful appeal of a Leonard conviction.
Robinson told reporters that while the focus of the questionnaires and the hearing was on the media influence of the potential jurors, the prospective panel's personal exposure was not considered.
Some would-be jurors said they had heard or felt the blast, traveled to the neighborhood and observed the damage or spoken of it with friends and co-workers.
Those opinions, by themselves, would possibly doom any such conviction upon appeal, Robinson indicated.
Leonard's attorneys, who have claimed that their client faces community-wide prejudice that would negate a fair trial, refused comment.
A former prosecutor, not connected to the Richmond Hill case, said Robinson made the right call.
“In the event of a conviction it wouldn't have been worth the paper it was printed on,” said Ralph Staples, “because the case would have come back on appeal so I think in order to avoid that she made a decision tactically that would protect the case should it get through to conviction.
“As an attorney you worry about if the people you are talking to are telling the truth about what they feel, what they've heard and what effect its had on them.
“This case received national attention so its going to be hard to find anybody who hasn't heard something about this case.”
Judge Carlisle told FOX59 News the two sides will now draw up a list of suitable Indiana counties where the trial could be heard, or a jury selected, and she will contact those courts to determine the feasibility of moving the Leonard case out of central Indiana.
Co-defendants Monserrate Shirley and Bob Leonard have not filed for similar change of venue.
In 2013 the trial of IMPD Officer David Bisard was moved to Fort Wayne at a cost of nearly $100,000 after it was determined that extensive pre-trial publicity of his fatal DUI charges made such a fair trial unlikely in Marion County.