Jurors seated in trial of Richmond Hill house explosion suspect Bob Leonard Jr.
FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Jan. 19, 2016) – Twelve jurors, eight men and four women, have been chosen to hear the murder, arson and conspiracy charges against Bob Leonard Jr. in a Fort Wayne courtroom.
Seven alternate jurors were selected, completing the jury selection process.
Leonard is accused of conspiring with his half-brother, Mark Leonard, to blow up Monserrate Shirley’s home in the Richmond Hill community on the south side of Indianapolis in November of 2012 in an insurance fraud scheme.
Mark Leonard was convicted of the identical 53 charges that Bob Leonard faces and was sentenced to life without parole.
Shirley testified against her ex-lover during his trial in South Bend last summer and is expected to take the stand against Bob Leonard.
During jury selection, Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson explained to jurors that Leonard faces both murder and felony murder charges for the deaths of Jennifer and Dion Longworth, Shirley’s neighbors on Fieldfare Way.
Robinson said Leonard should have known his actions in alleging setting the trigger on the house explosion would have killed the neighbors even if that was not his intent.
Prosecutors contend Leonard entered Shirley’s home the day of the blast, as it was filling with natural gas, and set a timer on a microwave oven that triggered the explosion.
It is often during jury selection that defense attorneys not only seek to size up potential jurors but they also reveal their strategies.
Defense Counsel Ted Minch explained to jurors that while DNA evidence can place a suspect at the scene of a crime, it cannot prove when the suspect visited that location.
During recent telephone interviews and an in-person meeting at the Marion County Jail, Leonard told CBS4 that he expected his DNA would be in Shirley’s house and in Mark Leonard’s van, which was spotted in the Richmond Hill neighborhood the day of the explosion, as he had visited the home in the weeks before the tragedy and also driven the vehicle.
Defense Attorney Mark Inman asked potential jurors, “Do you think witnesses can have motives?”
“Yes,” answered one man who was later chosen to sit on the panel.
Leonard’s defense will rely on destroying the credibility and testimony of Shirley who has told investigators that the half-brother visited her home and conspired with her boyfriend to set the blast and had met the couple the night before to receive final instructions and reminded her afterwards that the trio was in the conspiracy together no matter how many neighbors had died.
Leonard told CBS4 that Shirley embellished her account to include him to curry favor with prosecutors and secure herself a more lenient sentence as part of her plea agreement to testify and he denied her statements.
Seventy-eight of the potential 100 Allen County citizens summoned arrived for jury selection.
Several of them were dismissed before examination after confirming their past knowledge of the case which received extensive state and even national media coverage.
Allen Superior Judge Frances Gull indicated to the jury pool that opening statements would be held Thursday morning, “or sooner,” which seems likely with the relatively rapid selection of the jury.
The trial is expected to last six weeks.