Richmond Hill trial set to begin this week for lead suspect Mark Leonard

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Mark Leonard (file photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (June 1, 2015) — More than two and a half years after a natural gas explosion leveled a south side house, killing two neighbors, damaging 80 homes and causing $4 million in losses, the trial for the lead suspect in the Richmond Hill case is set to begin.

Mark Leonard is accused of masterminding the blast that destroyed girlfriend Monserrate Shirley’s house in what prosecutors call a failed insurance fraud scheme.

Leonard is the first of five accused co-conspirators to stand trial as a preliminary hearing will be held in Judge John Marnocha’s St. Joseph Superior courtroom Wednesday followed by what is expected to be two days of jury selection with opening statement set for next Monday.

Marion County prosecutors have already loaded up their files which have been transported by truck to South Bend where the trial is expected to last at least six weeks.

“What we’re packing up today is all of our boxes, our office equipment, some of the exhibits we’ll be using at trial,” said Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson.

A semi-tractor trailer will deliver pods full of bulky evidence Tuesday.

“The evidence includes a water heater, a furnace, a door,” said Robinson. “Parts of a house basically.”

Leonard is charged with two counts of murder for the deaths of neighbors Dion and Jennifer Longworth and fifty counts of arson and conspiracy to commit arson.

Monserrate Shirley has pleaded guilty to a pair of arson charges and agreed to testify against Leonard in the plot to blow up her house in the pursuit of a $300,000 home insurance claim.

Two hundred witnesses, 2,000 pieces of evidence and 30,000 documents make up the State’s case.

“It’s important to not only to explain things to a jury but also show things to a jury,” said Robinson.

“It’s a good thing just to get going and get this thing started,” she said. “I’m sure the people of Richmond Hill think the same.”

In March, Leonard’s attorney David Shircliff told CBS4 News that he attempted to plead his client guilty to a lesser charge and receive a 58 year prison term though the prosecutor turned that offer down.

If convicted, Leonard faces life in prison without parole.

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