Defendant seeks plea agreement in Richmond Hill case

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Mark Leonard (file photo)

(March 25, 20125) – It was revealed during a pretrial hearing in South Bend this morning that attorneys representing lead Richmond Hill suspect Mark Leonard have offered to plead their client guilty.

Defense attorney David Shircliff told Judge John Marnocha that on February 24th Leonard’s attorneys entered into talks with the Marion County prosecutor to plead their client guilty for his role in the November 2012 Richmond Hill house explosion that killed two people and caused $4 million in damages to the Southside neighborhood.

Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson immediately objected to Shircliff’s plea agreement reference and Judge Marnocha agreed. Shircliff later referred to “good faith plea negotiations.” Judge Marnocha said he would not set a deadline for filing of a plea agreement pending the start of jury selection in St. Joseph Superior Court June 4th.

Robinson told reporters there are no plea agreement negotiations ongoing and no deal has been offered by the state. “We are fully prepared to go to trial.” Leonard and three other defendants face the possibility of life without parole if convicted of the arson for insurance fraud scheme.

Leonard’s offer came one month after his former girlfriend Monserrate Shirley agreed to plead guilty to the conspiracy in exchange for cooperation with prosecutors. Shircliff told the court Leonard’s attorneys have already deposed Shirley for five hours and are set to question her again April 9th. After her plea agreement Shirley told prosecutors that Leonard was the driving force behind the plot to destroy her home in a natural gas explosion and defraud her insurance company.

Judge Marnocha also heard two defense motions to suppress evidence against Leonard. The alleged leader of the conspiracy is accused of attempting to have a witness in the case killed. Leonard’s attorneys want the testimony and evidence generated by jailhouse informant Robert Smith precluded from the trial. Smith got Leonard to “sign a contract, draw a map, sign a promissory note, and make a phone call” according to defense attorney Shircliff. Prosecutors say they have a tape of Leonard ordering the execution of a witness. Defense attorneys claim Smith acted on behalf of investigators. Deputy Prosecutor Robinson said “Mark Leonard voluntarily made those phone calls. He attempted to kill a witness in this case.”

Defense attorneys are also attempting to exclude a statement given to police by Leonard’s half-brother Bob Leonard. “He’s throwing Mark Leonard under the bus,” said defense attorney Diane Black. The defense claims since Bob was never advised of his rights or given access to an attorney, his rights were violated and therefore the statements should not be used against his half-brother. Prosecutors argued that Bob Leonard’s statements are part of the insurance fraud conspiracy that’s at the heart of the case. Judge Marnocha indicated he expects to issue rulings on the motions next week.

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