State to call first witness Tuesday in Richmond Hill trial

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (June 8, 2015)-- Opening statements in the Richmond Hill trial focusing on defendant Mark Leonard wrapped-up just after 3 p.m. on Monday afternoon. It took two-and-a-half days to seat the entire jury. Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry isn't discouraged.

"Obviously, we hoped that we could complete the selection in two days, but [it's] not surprising it took that long given the amount of issues here," said Curry.  

Once the completed jury entered the court room, Judge Marnocha played a video of himself reading every charge Mark Leonard is facing. He is facing over 50 counts of murder, arson, insurance fraud and conspiracy. 

"You can imagine how much work went into the preparation of this case and I've observed it all along and I'm confident we are ready to do what's necessary," said Curry.

Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson started her opening statements by describing the weather on November 10, 2012, the day of the Richmond Hill Explosion.

"It was one of those perfect Indiana fall days where you don't even think about the bad weather coming in the winter," said Robinson.

As her opening statement continued, Robinson connected with the South Bend jury by telling them that there was a Notre Dame football game on that evening. While Robinson recalled the final score of that game, she stressed that the residents of the Richmond Hill subdivision weren't able to see the end of the game due to the explosion that rocked their suburban neighborhood. 

"They will hear that information from a number of the Richmond Hill residents so we heard that when we were talking to them and so that's something that realistically i can give to them that i think puts a personal touch on the case

"This was not a gas leak. This was not an accident. This was a substantial and intentional act," said Robinson.

In late 2014, Monserrate Shirley provided investigators with her knowledge and involvement of the alleged insurance scheme.She was later offered  a plea agreement in exchange for her testimony. Shirley agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit arson. A crime that carries a prison sentence of 20-50 years. 

"It's important when you have someone testifying to let the jury know the context of their testimony.What they need to know from us is that she [Shirley] has a plea agreement and they're going to asses the credibility--that's their job," said Robinson

At 2:54 p.m., the state rested and the defense delivered its opening statement.

Diane Black, Leonard's lead attorney, began by describing the tragedy and the lasting impact the explosion has had on the Richmond Hill neighborhood. She detailed the deaths of Dion and Jennifer Longworth. She said Jennifer died instantly while Dion struggled as neighbors and first responders attempted to save his life.

Leonard's own attorney said her client got caught up in a "a stupid and selfish insurance fraud that went horribly wrong."

While in jail, Leonard is accused of hiring a hit-man to kill a potential witness. Black introduced this piece of information to the jury during her opening statement. Black said Leonard befriended Robert Smith while incarcerated in the Marion County jail.

Black told the jury that Smith is known to jail staffers and she outlined his lengthy criminal history. She explained that Smith frequently exchanged information about other inmates so that he would receive a lesser punishment.   

"Robert Smith manipulates people who are desperate," said Black.  

Black advised the jury that they will hear a recorded conversation between Leonard and who he thought was a potential hit man. However, the person on the other line was an ATF agent.  

Black also talked about Shirley talking to the media in a tearful interview, in which she also claimed to be a victim.

Black said Shirley left a key piece of evidence about the conspiracy when she said that her boyfriend disabled the step down regulator, which led to the explosion.

The jury was dismissed just after 3:10 p.m. The State's first witness will be called Tuesday morning.

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