Bob Leonard Jr. speaks out from jail before Richmond Hill trial starts next week

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Jan. 11, 2016)-- The man accused of setting off the murderous Richmond Hill explosion in Indianapolis more than three years ago told CBS4 News he intends to take the stand when jurors in Fort Wayne hear his case beginning next week.

During several phone calls and one face-to-face interview inside the Marion County Jail, Bob Leonard Jr. pledged to speak up for himself in the courtroom of Allen Superior Judge Frances Gull, “because I’m innocent…because there are things that the State’s trying to suppress in this case that shows that I’m innocent.”

What follows are direct quotes from Leonard’s first-ever taped interview. At a preliminary hearing last month, Leonard failed in a bid to fire his attorneys.

“I know my case better than anyone,” Leonard said.

Last summer, Leonard watched a jury in South Bend convict his half-brother, Mark Leonard, of the same charges he faces for the arson and conspiracy that resulted in the explosion that destroyed Monserrate Shirley’s home at 8349 Fieldfare Way.

The blast killed neighbors Jennifer and Dion Longworth and caused more than $4 million damage to the southside community.

The younger Leonard is now serving life in prison without parole.

During Mark Leonard’s trial, Shirley testified that Bob Leonard Jr. was an active co-conspirator, helping his brother refine the plan after two failed attempts to destroy the home in a natural gas blast.

“Never, never, never, never,” said Bob Leonard Jr. “I would never be a part of that.”

Leonard said while he was present when his half-brother purchased a thermostat during what prosecutors called an initial failed attempt to set off an explosion resulting from static electricity inside the gas-filled house, he knew nothing about the plot intended to pay the single mother $300,000 in homeowner’s insurance proceeds.

“I was never part of their plan of conspiracy,” he said. “I was never part of any of this. Monserrate Shirley blew up…burned up her daughter’s house intentionally. I don’t know the woman. Why would I risk anything to try to get her out of debt for a woman I have never met?”

Leonard said he had been introduced to Shirley weeks before the explosion when he re-established contact with his half-brother after the pair had been estranged for several years.

“Mark Leonard is a jinx….everything he touches turns to crap,” said Leonard in a monitored phone call from inside the jail. “You can’t trust anything he says.”

Leonard said the brothers reconnected to visit a grandmother and consider working jointly at an abandoned Thompson Road Holiday Inn Mark Leonard was preparing for demolition.

“I don’t like to really get involved in anything he says because he’s bad luck,” said Leonard. “It seems that everything around him seems to turn to bad luck for people around him. I pretty much stay away from him in any business dealings.”

As part of her plea agreement to admit guilt to a pair of lesser conspiracy charges, Shirley told investigators that her boyfriend would pay Bob Leonard Jr. $10,000 for entering the home on November 10, 2012, and setting a timer on a microwave oven to trigger an explosion several hours later.

Shirley said $500 had changed hands between the brothers.

“They never gave me anything,” denied Leonard. “Monserrate Shirley never told me anything about money and discussed money with her or Mark Leonard either.”

Shirley also told investigators that when she tried to back out of the conspiracy after the explosion, Bob Leonard Jr. told her, “You’re in it. I don’t care who died. You’re in this with us.”

“That’s a lie,” Leonard argued. “That sounds like something a crazy person would say that. I never said anything like that to her at all.”

Shirley testified in Mark Leonard’s hearing as part of an agreement to plead guilty in order to drop murder and arson charges and face a lighter sentence.

She would be expected to take the stand in the upcoming Fort Wayne trial.

“I think it's fake,” said Leonard, claiming Shirley’s attorneys have found a loophole to allow conviction on only a lesser charge in order to placate Richmond Hill neighbors. “She’s going to plead guilty to both of them.  She’s going to come back on post-conviction relief and she’s going to get the B felony is all she’s going to get.”

Mark Leonard’s conviction was partially based on technical testimony regarding the properties of natural gas and its potential combustion.

“This case screams for expert witnesses,” said Leonard who claimed his attorneys won’t be offering any such testimony.

One attorney told him it was not the defense counsel’s job to prove his innocence, said Leonard.

Defense Attorney Mark Inman refused comment on Leonard’s statements to CBS4.

Jury selection begins in Allen Superior Court January 19. The trial is expected to last six weeks.

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