Lead Richmond Hill suspect offers to plead guilty to reckless homicide
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (March 25, 20125)– The man described as the brains behind the Richmond Hill house explosion that killed two people, wrecked dozens of homes and caused $4 million in damages in 2012 offered to plead guilty to two counts of reckless homicide and two other counts that could have led to a maximum 58-year sentence.
An attorney for Mark Leonard tells FOX59 that Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry turned down the proposal last month.
Attorney David Shircliff referred to the proposed plea agreement during a pre-trial hearing in St. Joseph Superior Judge John Marnocha’s courtroom. Leonard’s trial has been moved to South Bend over concerns of impaneling a jury unaware of the fatal blast.
Shircliff’s comments were interrupted by Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson. Judge Marnocha concurred, indicating he did not want to hear discussion of a potential plea agreement until such a bargain was brought forth for his approval.
Shircliff later referred to “good faith negotiations.”
The attorney told FOX59 News that he sought to advise the South Bend jurist of the proposal just as Marion County judges are accustomed to being updated on potential plea talks.
Shircliff said his client was motivated to seek an agreement based on the projected time and expense of the trial and the decision of his former girlfriend Monserrate Shirley to strike a deal with prosecutors.
Shirley, Mark Leonard, Bob Leonard and Gary Thompson each faced life without parole if convicted of some 50 counts of conspiracy, arson, murder and insurance fraud counts.
Shirley agreed in January to plead guilty to two conspiracy counts and provided evidence and testimony against her fellow conspirators.
The homeowner’s recounting of the planning and aftermath led to additional details in the original probable cause and the charging of Thompson as the second man along with Bob Leonard at the Shirley house on November 10, 2012, hours before the home exploded in a natural gas blast.
Shircliff said after defense attorneys read the amended charging information, and spent five hours deposing Shirley, Mark Leonard agreed to plead guilty to two counts of reckless homicide and two conspiracy counts which would likely send him to jail for decades but still hold out the possibility of parole.
Leonard would also testify against his half-brother and Thompson who are accused of filling the south side home with natural gas and setting the timer on a microwave oven to ignite the blast.
Shircliff said the February 24 letter to the prosecutor was rejected.
Robinson told reporters that the state is not engaged in any plea agreement talks and is fully prepared to go to trial.
Shircliff said the February 24 offer was “fair,” and that the defense does not intend to enhance the proposed agreement to plead to the two murder charges, and, as a result, is also prepared to go to trial.
Leonard’s attorney told FOX59 News that Shirley’s statements throughout this investigation are, “multiple and contradictory,” and he refused to characterize how damaging they might be to his client.
Judge Marnocha indicated he expected to be called to potentially sit in one of the 18 juror seats.