SOUTH BEND, Ind. (June 4, 2015)-- Due to Mark Leonard's alleged reputation as a schemer, womanizer, gambler and hirer of a hit man, and also his own attorney's stumbling representation to a courtroom full of potential jurors, the first full day of jury selection in the Richmond Hill case was wiped out.
Leonard's trial was moved to South Bend to avoid the kinds of problems that doomed Thursday's session in Judge John Marnocha's St. Joseph County courtroom.
Marion County prosecutors, Judge Marnocha and even Leonard's own attorney tried to rescue the first jury pool after his Defense Attorney Diane Black revealed crucial unproven allegations against her client that led one potential juror to say it was his impression that defense attorneys had joined forces with the State to convict the defendant.
Black stunned a South Bend courtroom by telling potential jurors that her client faces charges of trying to kill a witness in his case and that legal strategem drew a rebuke from the trial judge.
"I've known Mark Leonard for two and a half years," Black told the jury pool, "and I learned that he called from jail to try to have a witness killed? 'How am I going to help you?'" she recalled asking. "What does it mean when someone tries to hire a hit man in a case?" she asked the panel.
"It sounds really bad to me," answered one potential juror.
"It sounded really bad to me," said Black, "and I'm his attorney."
Black's opening gambit laid bare a complicating factor defense attorneys unsuccessfully sought to separate from Leonard's Richmond Hill charges.
The revelation was delivered in a slow measured tone that allowed Black's words to sink in with the potential panel.
During a break while attorneys debate challenges to potential jurors, the formerly silent pool buzzed with conversation.
As a result, none of the first 28 candidates who were examined were chosen for the jury. The other 28 still to be interviewed were excused as well.
Following a lunch break, Judge Marnocha cautioned Black about the manner in which she raised the hit man issue before the jury pool and whether it was done to counter his ruling that would permit the murder-for-hire scheme to be entered into evidence as furtherance of the Richmond Hill arson conspiracy.
Black referred to a web report that recounted the, "visible gasp" that rippled through the courtroom at the hit man revelation.
Judge Marnocha admonished Black that during jury selection she could not invite potential jurors to draw a conclusion on Leonard's presumption of innocence based on the as yet unproven conspiracy to commit murder charges.
After a lunch break and before a new panel of potential jurors, Deputy Prosecutor Mark Hollingsworth addressed what he called, "The elephant in the room," regarding Black's claims that Leonard faces the hit man charges.
Hollingsworth took a seat in the witness stand to remind the panel that only witness statements and evidence are proof of a crime, not an attorney's statements.
"There is no way this can be fair because of the media firestorm of coverage," said one member of the pool.
Hollingsworth found himself battling back against the perception of pre-trial publicity and the defense counsel's revelation and in favor of the prosecution's obligation to prove its case.
Leonard is accused of concocting the conspiracy that led to the destruction of girlfriend Monserrate Shirley's house in an intentional natural gas explosion on November 10, 2012.
Shirley's house was leveled, neighbors Dion and Jennifer Longworth died in the fire and collapse of their home, 80 residences were destroyed or damaged and losses totalled more than $4 million.
Leonard faces 53 counts including murder, arson and conspiracy.
Shirley and three other men face similar charges.
Leonard is also accused of soliciting a hit man from inside the Marion County Jail three months after his arrest to kill a key witness in the case.
Instead of a hit man, Leonard was taped in jailhouse telephone conversations negotiating with an undercover federal agent.
Black also asked jurors how they would emotionally process the knowledge that the Richmond Hill explosion "devastated a neighborhood and two people died."
Fifty-six St. Joseph County residents answered the call for jury selection and spent the day inside Judge John Marnocha's courtroom.
Judge Marnocha told the jury pool, "You become the actual judge of the case," and, "I am listening to the full trial for the first time like you."
There was a visible non-verbal response from many in the pool when the Court indicated that the trial may last as long as six weeks thereby asking jurors to put their lives on hold.
When the judge asked if pre-trial publicity led some potential jurors to reach a conclusion about Leonard's guilt or innocence, a couple of hands were raised.
Judge Marnocha then called the attorneys to his bench and announced he would delve into those pre-conceived opinions later during the session.
Leonard appeared in court for the first time in a white shirt, stripped necktie and khaki pants. Sheriff's deputies removed his handcuffs, belly chains and ankle shackles before the jury pool was shown into the courtroom.
He rose and looked at potential jurors when so instructed by the judge.
Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson began the State's examination of the first 14 potential jurors by reminding them that despite what they've seen on TV, no one in Judge Marnocha's courtroom was an actor.
Robinson led the pool through a criminal justice tutorial, explaining the difference between a defendant "knowingly" or "intentionally" committing a murder.
The State contends Leonard and his co-conspirators should have known that setting off a massive explosion in an insurance fraud scheme would result in the death of their neighbors.
Robinson explained that intentions can be betrayed by results that were a byproduct but the perpetrators should have known there was a risk of unintended results.
"Knowingly" planning and committing a crime, said Robinson, is to act with a high probability that the plot might spin out of control.
"Intentionally," said the prosecutor, is acting with a conscious objective.
Robinson explained that in Indiana the murder counts leveled against Leonard allege that he knowingly committed an act that a reasonable person might assume could lead to unintended death.
Presaging testimony of co-defendant Monserrate Shirley, Robinson asked potential jurors if they would have a hard time believing the credibility of a fellow conspirator who agreed to work with prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence.
The trial will restart from scratch Friday, with a completely new jury pool.