SOUTH BEND, Ind. (July 13, 2015)-- A scheme that exploded with fatal results on the night of November 10, 2012, will be submitted to jurors today as final arguments are underway in the trial of Mark Leonard.
Leonard is accused of blowing up then-girlfriend Monserrate Shirley's house on a warm Saturday night in the Richmond Hill community.
The force of the blast, and the magnitude of destruction, resulted in Leonard's trial on murder, felony murder, insurance fraud, arson and conspiracy charges to be moved 140 miles away.
Leonard entered the courtroom at 9:52 a.m., dressed in black slacks and a white shirt with a patterned red necktie with a fresh haircut. St. Joseph County Police deputies unshackled his chains while the Defendant prepared to listen to attorneys verbally walk jurors through the last three-and-a-half years of his life that began with a one night stand leading to a murderous insurance fraud plot and a courtroom in the basement of the South Bend courthouse.
If the State succeeds in convincing 12 residents of St. Joseph County that Leonard should have known his plan to blow up Shirley's house could go fatally wrong, the Richmond Hill mastermind would be looking at the potential of spending the rest of his life in one of Indiana's maximum security prisons with no hope of freedom.
Should the Defense convince jurors that as ill conceived and tragic as his plot became, Leonard could not have known its potential results nor intended to take the lives of his neighbors and, therefore, is guilty of nothing more serious than Reckless Homicide, a crime that carries a sentence of 2-8 years in prison but, when combined with convictions on the other counts, could still keep the lead co-conspirator behind bars for decades to come.
Shirley has accepted a Plea Agreement from the Office of Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry and will admit her role in exchange for a lesser sentence and testimony against her co-conspirators.
Bob Leonard, Jr., and Gary Thompson stand accused of filling Shirley's house with natural gas and setting a delayed timer to spark the blast. Their trials are pending, as is the case against Glenn Hults, accused of participating in the cover-up.
After brief discussion of the jury instructions between the judge and lawyers, sixteen jurors, including four alternates, were shown into the courtroom.
Jurors watched a DVD taping of St. Joseph Superior Judge John Marnocha reading the charging information detailing the 53 counts against Leonard, including two counts of Murder, two counts of Felony Murder, two counts of Conspiracy, 46 counts of Arson and one count of Insurance Fraud.
At the end of the 25-minute long reading of the charges, Judge Marnocha instructed jurors that if the State fails to convince them of the two Murder charges, they would be permitted to consider the counts of Reckless Homicide as lesser included offenses.
At 11:12 a.m. Deputy Prosecutor Mark Hollingsworth, with Curry looking on from the gallery, rose to address the jury and begin the State's Closing Arguments.
"The smoking gun, folks, is right there," said Hollingsworth, recalling that jurors learned a Maxitrol regulator on the gas manifold connected to the gas meter was removed and replaced by a straight piece of pipe. "That step down regulator right there is gone."
Prosecutors argue that missing regulator allowed the introduction of an excessive amount of natural gas into the house to fuel the explosion.
Hollingsworth also reminded the jury that a Dante valve on the gas fireplace was missing and piping in the fireplace showed tool marks of a forced removal.
"If there was a Dante valve there, it would have been found," he said. "It was what wasn't in all that stuff that was the key."
Hollingsworth told jurors that, "common sense," proved that a damaged metal cylinder and exploded microwave oven were the triggers for the blast.
The testimony of a forensic chemist was reviewed that found gasoline was splashed in the kitchen and living room of Shirley's house, and that neighbors saw Leonard's white van on Fieldfare Way the day of the blast as two men exited the house.
Another neighbor testified that he smelled natural gas in the air the weekend before the explosion which Hollingsworth said confirmed Shirley's story that Leonard and his brother attempted to blow up the house in early November but failed.
"They're learning unfortunately from their mistakes from before," said Hollingsworth.
The meeting between the Leonard brothers and a utility company employee who was quizzed about the properties of natural gas and the amount it would take to fill a house was recalled, as was Shirley's plea to her boyfriend to call of his plot in exchange for her 401k assets.
Hollingsworth recounted the testimony of Mark Duckworth whom investigators say was marked for death during phone calls Leonard made from inside the Marion County Jail to an undercover federal agent he believed to be a "Hit Man."
"He wants his friend of 20 years dead," argued Hollingsworth in the mistaken belief that the death of one witness would force the entire case to collapse.
"Every single victim in this case is a victim because of him," said Hollingsworth, pointing at the silent Accused who refused to take the stand in his own defense. "Every single co- conspirator in this case would not be charged but for him. It all comes back to Mark Leonard."
As Hollingsworth conluded his closing arguments, Judge Marnocha called for a recess before the Defense began its final plea to jurors.
"I love what I do and I hope you all pick up on that," opened Defense Attorney David Shircliff. "I'm passionate about defending Mr. Leonard.
"He's the most important person in the courtroom because he's one of us charged by the government.
"What can I tell you what you don't already know?"
Shircliff began by attacking two key pieces of evidence, the blown out cylinder and microwave oven.
"Where is the testing that was done on it? The video that was done on it? The pictures to show where they found the cylinder?" asked Shircliff. "Its not about, 'This makes sense.' They've got to have proof."
Shircliff referred to State experts who computed how much natural gas was released into the house in the days before the explosion.
"I got confused with some of that science," said Shircliff. "I didn't quite understand that."
Shircliff then referred to the role of Bob Leonard, Jr., in the final planning and triggering of the explosion and Shirley's role in the conspiracy.
"I would be a sexist," said Shircliff when he explained how he would not attempt to characterize Shirley's first meeting of Mark Leonard in a southside bar one year before the explosion which resulted in a one-night stand.
Shircliff said Shirley had two mortgages worth $220,000 on her home and $90,000 in credit card debt but blamed Leonard for encouraging her to raise the insurance coverage on her possessions to $300,000.
Shirley stopped the short sale of her house in November of 2011, said Shircliff, which could have offered a way out of her financial dilemma. Shirley took over Leonard's corporate bank accounts and nursed him through a health crisis the following spring, Shircliff argued.
Leonard was beholden to Shirley, argued the attorney, as he was on home detention for a DUI conviction and could be violated and sent back to jail. Leonard performed many domestic activities around his girlfriend's house.
"She's a master liar. A master manipulator. Its what she does," Shircliff told the jurors. "If that's their case you have to decide if she's credible or not credible and she's pretty slick."
Shircliff went through the roll call of witnesses and said only 11 of them, six percent of the testimony, was directly about Mark Leonard.
Many witnesses were Richmond Hill neighbors or technical witnesses who were called in after the blast.
Shircliff noted that the names of witnesses displayed on a video screen were highlighted in yellow and that the State used a yellow highlighter to color in a map of the damaged and destroyed homes in the neighborhood and that John Longworth attended every day of the trial, sometimes dressed in a yellow shirt, to pay honor to his son and his favorite color.
As he made the argument, Shircliff was wearing a yellow necktie.
Shircliff recalled Duckworth's friendship with Leonard beginning back in the 1990s when the men were Chippendale dancers.
That information was never revealed during testimony until the closing arguments.
Shircliff said jailhouse informant Robert Smith preyed on Leonard's isolation inside the Marion County Jail to carry out the suspect's attempt to have Duckworth killed by a hit man.
"Who in his right mind," asked Shircliff would think a murder-for-hire plot launched behind jail bars would succeed?
Shircliff painted the act as one of "desperation" and asked jurors to discount the plot as evidence of Leonard's guilt in the conspiracy.
Leonard's sister Tammy Durham testified that her brother sent her a text message one hour before the explosion that he had come into a $250,000 windfall and want her to join him in a celebration but she never saved the message to show police which Shircliff said he found, "odd."
Shircliff continued to spin his theory of reasonable doubt when it came to the testimony of Arthur Kirkpatrick who was an employee of Citizens Energy Group in the fall of 2012.
"Theres a reason I asked him and I said, 'Memory's a funny thing,' and I know I got in trouble for that," said Shircliff who went on to detail a meeting between the Leonard brothers on November 9th of that year.
Shircliff said Kirkpatrick didn't tell investigators about the talk until eleven days after the explosion.
"The conversation wasn't important to him," maintained Shircliff who said Kirkpatrick did not picked Leonard out of photo line up at the time.
Further casting doubt on the State's witnesses, the Defense returned to Smith and its belief that he plied Leonard with prescription medicines inside the Marion County Jail at the time fo the "Hit Man" plot.
"The State is a little desperate in this case," said Shircliff as he criticized a Citizens Energy training video that was produced for the Prosecution that showed a demonstration of a small natural gas explosion in a tabletop model house, "but that doesn't mean you get to be deceptive."
As his closing argument touched on various bits of testimony and evidence in a non-linear fashion, Shircliff was asking jurors to follow his line of defense to the most complex homicide investigation in Indianapolis history.
Shircliff referred to an IMPD detective who interviewed Shirley but was not allowed to testify, and while he couldn't explain to jurors what the detective would have said, "you can ask yourself that question."
The Defense asked why Richmond Hill residents were not allowed to testify about their reaction to Shirley's Plea Agreement and decision to cooperate with the Prosecution.
Shircliff recalled the playing of a television interview which Fox 59 viewers have watched and asked the jurors if they found her answers truthful.
The attorney reminded jurors they had not heard from Thompson and Hults, Shirley's friend from the bar the night she met Leonard and the woman's daughter who is now living in North Carolina.
Shircliff's closing argument, as was the Defense's cross examination during the trial, was focused more on Shirley's guilt than Leonard's innocence.
While criticizing the alleged fabrications of Shirley and Kirkpatrick's lack of memory, Shircliff often admittedly stumbled over specific dates during his address to jurors.
Shircliff hammered hard at Shirley's answer in a deposition of this year when she claimed Leonard told her he disposed of the crucial "step down valve" from the gas manifold.
"You can assume it was made up," Shircliff argued. "You can call it a lie. Its made up fiction."
Shircliff said the claim served the State's purposes to tie the physical evidence of the explosion to Leonard.
Shircliff said it made no sense that Leonard removed a fireplace valve on Friday when a neighbor heard a hissing sound that would indicate an introduction of gas into the home, but Bob Leonard, Jr., and Thompson were alleged to have entered the house the next day to set the timer on the microwave oven to trigger the blast.
"I don't think three wild monkeys and a dog could drag me into a house where gas was leaking for seventeen and a half hours," Shircliff said. "Whatever Bob Leonard did Bob Leonard did but Mark Leonard didn't do it."
The counsel continued to raise questions investigators didn't ask, including the lack of reference to burn patterns and core samples showing the presence of gasoline in IFD's report on the cause and origin of the fire and explosion.
Shircliff insinuated that Lt. Mario Garza, the lead arson investigator, was emotionally overwhelmed from what he observed the night of the blast and issued a flawed report.
The Defense said the results of the investigation were written to suit the hypothesis.
"They already figured out what happened," said Shircliff.
When Shircliff returned to the lack of tests run on the Shirley microwave oven or a similar appliance to determine if that could indeed be part of the triggering device,"you gotta presume it could not have happened."
Shircliff recalled the testimony of forensic chemist Steve Shand.
"'They had no clue what they were doing,'" Shircliff quoted Shand. "'This was the perfect storm. It got out of hand.' He said in fifty years with all his knowledge and experience he would not be able to recreate this."
Shircliff ended his argument with a plea to jurors to not find his client guilty of murder if they find reasonable doubt based on circumstantial and not direct evidence
"If you come back and find Mr. Leonard guilty of Reckless Homicide and Conspiracy, I don't know that I would have much to say about that."
Lead Prosecutor Denise Robinson wrapped up the State's case by quoting Aristotle, "...the sum of coincidence equals certainty."
She argued that the Leonard brothers did so much research and planning and trial-and-error testing that the results of the insurance plot were a certainty, not a coincidence.
After final instructions, Judge Marnocha sent the jurors to the jury room for 20 minutes of preliminary deliberations before ordering them transported to a downtown hotel to spend the night sequestered away from televisions, newspapers and the internet.
On the desk of the judge's secretary is a box full of jurors' cell phones.