SOUTH BEND, Ind. (June 5, 2015)--As if the first day never happened, the second day of jury selection in the Mark Leonard Richmond Hill case began this morning in a South Bend courtroom and by the end of the day Friday, 16 jurors were selected.
St. Joseph Superior Judge John Marnocha indicated at the outset of proceedings that he wanted to seat 12 jurors with six alternates and despite the setbacks of day one of jury selection, the Court is close to its goal.
Thursday’s jury pool was scrapped without a single juror being seat in the case against the man accused of masterminding the November 2012 Indianapolis house explosion that killed two people during a what investigators called an insurance fraud scheme.
The first day of juror selection was marked by a reluctance of candidates to commit to a potential six weeks in the jury box while several expressed preconceived opinions on Leonard’s potential guilt based on questions from Leonard’s own attorney.
Judge Marnocha dismissed the first jury pool after Leonard's attorney Diane Black told 56 potential jurors that her client was charged with trying to have a witness against him killed during phone calls from inside the Marion County Jail.
"The proverbial cat is out of the bag," said Judge Marnocha before this morning's jury pool was shown into his courtroom, referring to media coverage of Thursday's defense gambit. "I believe advising the jury that there was a hit man hired constituted improper voir dire. To the extent that issue now becomes an issue, I am not going to grant cause challenge because you folks started it. I'm not going to let the defense benefit and not seat a jury."
When 54 potential jurors of the second jury pool were shown into his courtroom, Judge Marnocha immediately opened up a discussion regarding media coverage of the case and Thursday's session.
"Those reporters who were here tend to get it right," said the judge as he cautioned the panel to use its best judgement in determining the accuracy of the information it received.
Judge Marnocha told attorneys he intends to keep a tighter rein on their questioning of potential jurors, holding both sides to discussion of the process and the search for bias, not a discourse on the evidence against Leonard.
As soon as attorneys began questioning potential jurors, it became clear that finding a panel to dedicate its life to the six-week trial would be difficult.
"You're asking me to decide right now," said one woman who indicated she would need to process not only the task ahead but how to reorder her personal life to accommodate the trial.
"I counted 110 people," said another woman who watched a listing of the potential victims in the case. "Call me naive, I could be a pretty good juror, and I can't believe that I just said."
While the woman would appear to make an ideal juror, like many, she had personal complications and obligations this summer such as a pending move to Michigan or Canada.
Attorney Black asked the panel if they would struggle emotionally, as she admitted she had, in grappling with the enormity of the charges lodged against Leonard.
Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson, for the second day in a row, offered a legal tutorial to the potential jurors on the concepts of a suspect "knowingly or intentionally" committing murder, that is, carrying out an act that could lead to unintended but foreseeable death.
One woman. apparently agitated, announced to the Court that she previously indicated she didn't want to be called for jury duty and had no intention of serving and asked when she could be excused to leave.
Judge Marnocha acknowledged her question and the woman remain seated in the jury box for the duration of the session.
Black delved into the panel’s thoughts on co-defendants who are likely to testify in exchange for a lighter sentence and a witness whom she described as, “a jailhouse snitch.”
Homeowner Monserrate Shirely has agreed to testify against her former boyfriend and will face reduced charges.
An informant from inside the Marion County jail, Robert Smith, was the go-between when Leonard is alleged to have conspired with an undercover federal agent in an attempt to kill a witness.
Those issues ignited lively exchanges with some potential jurors debating the veracity of cooperating co-conspirators or witnesses who may have also faced criminal charges.