Monserrate Shirley testifies in Richmond Hill case against Mark Leonard, details explosion plot

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (July 1, 2015)-- The sound of shackles accompanied Monserrate Shirley as she walked into the St. Joseph County Court room. She took the witness stand and testified against Mark Leonard, her former lover and lead defendant in the lead Richmond Hill trial.

Live blog: Go inside the courtroom with CBS4. 

She was wearing a navy blue jail jumpsuit.

Shirley was offered a plea deal in exchange for her testimony. If she was convicted prior to accepting the plea she could have faced a sentence of life in prison without parole.

She plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit arson and will receive a much lighter sentence.  Prosecutors made it clear that she still could spend 20-50 years in jail.

Monserrate Shirley (Sketch by Dave Blodgett)

Monserrate Shirley (Sketch by Dave Blodgett)

Shirley told the jury that she three gas appliances at her house while living in her Richmond Hill home with her husband. The water heater, fireplace and the furnace were all gas powered.

Her ex-husband, John Shirley, later switched the gas fireplace to a regular wood burning fireplace. 

Shirley says she met Leonard on November 12, 2011 at an Indianapolis bar called Crazy Street. The prosecution asked her to explain how she first met Leonard.  

"Mark Leonard was staring at me right away and I was looking at him to," said Shirley.

Shirley was enamored by Leonard from the moment he walked into the bar.

"He wears nice clothes, very handsome man, blonde bleached hair, white shoes, nice jeans, he was driving a hummer," said Shirley.

Leonard quickly moved in with Shirley in December 2011

"He was a nice guy, we would cook together, go to restaurants with Brooke, very charming, very lovely man," said Shirley.

However, the relationship turned turbulent just five months into the relationship, according to Shirley.  

Shirley outlined Leonard's life threatening illness and the constant care she provided for him at the hospital.

Shirley said Leonard took her to the Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg a few months after the couple met. Leonard regularly played blackjack.

Shirley telling the jury that Leonard would wager anywhere from $2,000-$10,000 while gambling.

Two weeks after Leonard moved in with Shirley he started asking about the insurance on the house. Shirley assured him that the deed was in her name.

David Shircliff (left) Mark Leonard (center) and Diane Black (right)  (Sketch by Dave Blodgett)

David Shircliff (left) Mark Leonard (center) and Diane Black (right) (Sketch by Dave Blodgett)

"If anything happens to the house, the claim will go to me," said Shirley.

After seeing the insurance documentation, Leonard told Shirley to increase her insurance coverage from $150,000 to $300,000.

The reasoning Leonard provided was that he was going to fix up the house and that he was going to bring in new merchandise.

The state then showed Shirley pictures of her former house on Fieldfare Way. Shirley started to get emotional when asked to identify her now deceased neighbors home.

Leonard said that he was going to fix up the house and that he was going to bring in new merchandise.

However, he didn't come through with that promise and only purchased two TVs and some pictures. 

The State then showed Shirley pictures of her former house on Fieldfare Way. Shirley started to get emotional when asked to identify her now deceased neighbors home.

Shirley said that Leonard initiated a conversation about burning down her home in February 2012. 

Leonard told Shirley, "I'm going to show you how to make money."

The conversation of setting fire to the home came up again in July 2012. Leonard, Glenn Hults and Shirley discussed blowing up her home at a July 4 pool party. 

Shirley was told that Hults' house was set on fire and it was set by Gary Thompson. Hults allegedly told Shirley that he had no problem collecting the insurance claim.  

Hults, a friend of Leonard's, worked at a car dealership in Greenwood. Hults is also accused of conspiring to blow up Shirley's home.

The conversation of arson was again brought up in October 2012.

Leonard told Thompson that Shirley was ready go through with the plan. Thompson came to the house and spoke with Shirley.

"We were in the garage and Mark Leonard told Gary that I was ready," said Shirley.

Shirley says Leonard coached her to agree to the plan. 

"I thought it was going to be a small fire like he told me. Nobody was going to get hurt, it was just going to be a house fire," said Shirley.

Denise Robinson (left) Monserrate Shirley (center) and Judge John Marnocha (right) (Sketch by Dave Blodgett)

Denise Robinson (left) Monserrate Shirley (center) and Judge John Marnocha (right) (Sketch by Dave Blodgett)

The first attempt to blow up Shirley's home was October 27, 2012.

Thompson planned on using the thermostat and fire place to ignite the fire. Shirley wasn't clear on how it was going to work.

The couple went to the Hollywood Casino and were expecting a neighbor to call her once the house was on fire. However, the arson attempt failed.

The next day, they stopped by Thompson's home. Shirley told the court that Leonard was furious with Thompson.  

"You can't even do a fire. You are a piece of s***."

Thompson told Leonard that he was pulled over the police the previous night and that is why he couldn't set fire to the house. 

After the failed attempt, The idea of trying to torch the house again was brought up by Leonard, according to Shirley.

"He never took no as an answer," said Shirley.

Her testimony then described the second failed attempt to blow up the home.

During Leonard and Shirley's third stay at the hotel, Shirley said she was instructed by Leonard to call a local heating and cooling company to complain about the temperature. Shirley would tell the jury that this was all a lie--and it was part of Leonard's alibi.

Mark's Half brother, Bob, is also a co-conspirator in the case. He is accused of helping Leonard carry out the plan to destroy Shirley's home.

Days before the successful explosion, Mark and Bob Leonard went to a local the library and conducted research on a house fire that appeared to be the same size as Shirley's south side home. 

Shirley got cold feet and didn't want to go through with the plan. She offered Leonard  her entire 401K, about $10,000-$12,000, but Leonard said it wasn't enough according to Shirley. He allegedly wanted $300,000.

"I would give him anything because I was in love with him, said Shirley"

The magnitude of the blast came as a surprise to Shirley.

"I told Mark that's not what you told me. There was an explosion in there. That can't be real," said Shirley.

Shirley remembers returning back to the neighborhood after she received the phone call from a concerned neighbor. 

Days later, Shirley and Mark went to Bob's mobile-home. The trio talked about the blast and Shirley expressed her disgust and concern.  

"I told him I didn't want any part of this. Two innocent people died," said Shirley.

Some  ridiculed Shirley after her 2012 media interview because it appeared that she was crying, however, there weren't any tears. She explained Wednesday that she has a condition that prevents her from producing tears.   

Leonard's defense team worked to undermine Shirley's character.

"I think she answered the questions, I don't think she's very credible," said attorney David Shircliff. 

Judge John Marnocha (Sketch by Dave Blodgett)

Judge John Marnocha (Sketch by Dave Blodgett)

Shircliff repeatedly pointed out what he thought were inconsistencies in Shirley's statements over the years.

To prove his point, Shircliff wanted to play the 2012 media interview in which Shirley lied to local reporters. However, since Shirley has admitted guilt and told her version of the truth on the witness stand, Judge John Marnocha denied that request. 

"She can tell the truth as easy as she can tell a lie and it's hard for the jury to know the difference ," said Shircliff.

The defense will now focus on an alleged murder for hire plot that was orchestrated by Leonard behind bars.

The jury will hear from the jail informant who unraveled the whole plot Thursday.  

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