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by Russ McQuaid

Marion County prosecutors have investigated and argued from the moment the smoke cleared over the Richmond Hill neighborhood that failing finances and gambling debts led the fatal house explosion that killed two neighbors and damaged dozens of homes nearly two years ago.

Now, in recently filed court documents, we are learning the strategy and evidence the State will present in the murder and arson trials of homeowner Monserrate Shirley, her boyfriend Mark Leonard and his brother Bob Leonard.

In a document titled, “State’s Notice of Intent to Offer Motive Evidence,” Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson informs the Court and the defense of her arguments and the information she will rely on to convince jurors that the explosion at 8349 Fieldfare Way on November 10, 2012, was actually the result of a botched insurance fraud scheme.

“(T)he State intends to offer extrinsic evidence of the defendant’s legal financial transactions to show motive in its case in chief,” reads the Notice.

“Available documentation on defendant’s legal financial transactions show that defendants’ combined outlays strained defendant’s resources and provided a motive to increase insurance coverage on the property…in order to claim a large loss.”

The State’s filing lists evidence such as mortgage(s) liability; possibility and/or threat of foreclosure; inability to sell the home; defendant’s secured and/or unsecured debt at the time of the explosion;  prior bankruptcy proceedings; liabilities resulting from various casino losses; increased homeowner’s insurance coverage…prior to the explosion; and any related or supporting financial documents.

In other paperwork the State seeks to introduce other alleged insurance fraud schemes including stolen motorcycles and staged vehicle crashes involving Mark Leonard and David Gill, who was arrested during the intial investigation for an unrelated insurance fraud.

Prosecutors also intend to inform jurors about Leonard’s history of allegedly dating and defrauding other women, including those who told Fox 59 News that the southside man would whisk them away for a casino weekend only to claim he had forgotten his wallet when the tab came due or that he needed a short-term loan to tide him over on a construction project until a customer paid his bills.

The State informed Judge Shelia Carlisle and the defense that it would present evidence from at least three gambling resorts, the Blue Sky Casino, the French Lick Casino and the Hollywood Casino, which would include videos, an eviction form and a security incident report, as well as records of the defendant’s spending and debt.

Shirley and Leonard were at a Lawrenceburg casino the night the Richmond Hill house blew up in what detectives say they found was a staged natural gas explosion.

Prosecutors will ask the Court to deny attempts by Shirley’s attorneys to introduce evidence of the woman’s claimed childhood abuse that left her vulnerable to alleged coercion by her boyfriend Mark Leonard.

“A duress defense…does not exist here,” argues the State as such a claim would rest on evidence of force and threats to pressure Shirley’s cooperation in the scheme, yet the homeowner has never admitted being party to the alleged plot. Such a defense, says the State, is an attempt to “engender sympathy.”

Bob Leonard’s attorneys have argued that their client’s 4th, 5th, 6th & 14th Amendment rights were violated during the early stage of the investigation when he was supposedly questioned without being fully advised of his Miranda rights against self-incrimination.

“Physical and/or mental coercion” is listed as the underlying basis for exclusion of Leonard’s statements, according to the defense filing. The attorneys also argue that investigators reneged on a promise to show leniency in their eventual charging of Leonard if he agreed to cooperate.

The defense would also like to exclude what it refers to as, “Gory and Gruesome Crime Scene Photographs,” writing that such evidence lacks, “probative value,” and would serve only to prejudice the jury.

Mark Leonard’s motion for a change of venue due to extensive pre-trial publicity will be heard by Judge Carlisle July 28th-August 1st.

The prosecution has until August 22nd to answer Bob Leonard’s objections with a hearing set for September 6th.

A hearing to consider reduction of Bob Leonard’s bail will be held October 14th-16th at which time prosecutors will give a preview of their case in an attempt to make sure the third defendant stays in jail while awaiting trial.

Each defendant will face a separate trial as their respective defenses may rely on blaming co-defendants for the blast.

No trial dates have been set.