SOUTH BEND, Ind. (June 11, 2015) — One woman testified she thought it was Armageddon Time at 11:10 p.m. on November 10, 2012.
The first witness in Day 4 of the Mark Leonard trial told jurors, “It was just chaos,” the night his neighborhood exploded on the south side of Indianapolis.
Another woman said she feared a shooter was on a killing spree outside her front door.
One Air Force veteran likened the explosion to a bomb dropped from a F-16.
Jurors listened to another morning of testimony from neighbors of the Richmond Hil community about what happened on November 10, 2012, on Indianapolis’ south side.
Ben Melvin testified that, after the blast he looked out a window toward the sound of the blast and was greeted with a face full of, “insulation, smoke, debris. I just remember looking out the window and the window was gone.”
Melvin left his wife behind to look after his children, grabbed a flashlight and ran down Fieldfare Way to the home of Glenn Olvey, who resided with his family in the first house north of Ground Zero, 8349 Fieldfare Way, the home of Monserrate Shirley.
Leonard is accused of putting the plot in motion that destroyed Shirley’s home, damaged 80 more and killed two neighbors.
Kicking in the door of the Olvey home, Melvin heard a voice inside shouting, “Hey, take it easy.”
Melvin discovered debris in the darkened house as he poked through the ruins with a utility light.
“I remember Glenn standing up. I was a little disoriented. He had said something about his daughter jumped out the window.
“So I stepped back outside and looked around and started going back across the street to another residence. I just kind of looked down the street and at this time fire trucks were rolling up. I thought I saw Glenn’s daughter and I ran down the street and caught her. His daughter was screaming for her dad and at that time I was standing in front of her house.”
Melvin helped deliver the child to her family. He also said he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and snapped off a couple quick photographs of the scene.
The lights in the courtroom were dimmed as jurors saw one of Melvin’s photographs, which showed an orange, yellow and red glow of flames against a black background consuming homes in the 8300 block of Fieldfare Way, the blackened outline of tall trees in the foreground.
Melvin showed jurors another photograph, this one taken from inside the relative safety of his damaged home, portraying flames raging in the night a block away.
Brenda Mescall followed Melvin to the stand and told jurors after the blast, out on the street, a neighbor told her, “Oh, my God. A house blew up.”
Mescall said the street was filled with debris. “It was chaos.”
A softspoken Rachna Patel told jurors she lived just down the street from Shirley’s house that night.
“So you lived on Fieldfare?” asked Deputy Prosecutor Mark Hollingsworth.
“Yes,” said Patel in accented english as she went on to describe what happened that night.
“At first I thought it was an earthquake or something….then I ran out of the house and saw the community was on fire.”
Patel’s house was torn down after the blast, the foundation too damaged to be repaired.
“So you completely lost your house,” observed Hollingsworth.
Patel idenfitied photographs of her damaged home. Every time the Prosecution enters a handful of such photographs making up its estimated 2500 pieces of evidence, the prints are passed to the Defense table where Leonard observes them without any show of recognition of his admitted handiwork.
At the conclusion of Patel’s testimony Hollingsworth asked, “Did you allow anyone to do this to your home?”
Prosecutors must ask witnesses that question to prove arson was done that night.
“No,” said Patel who has since moved from the Richmond Hill neighborhood.
Jill Phillips told the South Bend jury that she was, “watching the Notre Dame game,” on television when the explosion occurred.
“Everything came off the walls. A picture fell and hit me in the head. The front door blew in.”
Phillips’ testimony echoed that of other witnesses who initially thought a plane had crashed in their neighborhood.
“My biggest fear was that I couldn’t protect my children because I didn’t know what we were protecting them from.”
Leonard’s attorneys rarely ask follow up questions of the neighbors, though David Shircliff did confirm that Phillips pointed the wrong way on a map displayed before the jurors as she indicated in which direction she walked away from the damaged neighborhood.
The Defense could possibly refer to this minor inconsistency as evidence of the uncertainty of the victims’ collective memories though a thread of commonality is thus far wound through the testimony of more than two dozen residents.
Jennifer Pitcher told the jury in the first minutes after the explosion she feared that, “a mass shooter was running through the neighborhood.”
Pitcher headed for Fieldfare Way in search of her sister’s home.
“I ran through rubble that was up to my knees and I felt heat from the fire.”
There was no response at her sister’s house and Pitcher returned home, though she couldn’t find her way through the smoke, before retrieving her family and prying her damaged garage door open. Pitcher testified that she drove her car away toward Mary Bryan Elementary School where other neighbors found refuge the rest of the night.
Beth Pretti told the jury she was in bed watching a college football game on television when the explosion occurred.
“Grace! Run!” Pretti said she yelled to her daughter when she thought a car had hit her house.
Pretti stepped into the street to find a confused elderly resident stunned by the blast as she began a search for young neighbor girls.
Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson showed Pretti a stack of 8″ by 10″ color photographs, taken on a sunny day under a stark blue sky, and asked if she recognized the pictures.
“Yes,” said Pretti. “Its my house.”
The photos were again passed to the Defense table as Leonard has now seen dozens of prints documenting the Richmond Hill community days after the dust settled following the blast.
Early in the afternoon session after lunch, Doug Weathers, a U.S. Air Force veteran likened the explosion to a bomb dropped from a F-16 bomber.
“I smell gas. Do you smell that?” Weathers recalled asking a neighbor as they stepped outside to witness the fireball of flames rising above Fieldfare Way.
Weathers said he spotted a column of flame within the fire and, “it reminded me of a propane torch if you light it.”
The two men began turning off gas meters in the neighborhood to avoid the spread of the fire.
Weathers told jurors virtually every room in his house was damaged and repaired at a cost of $100,000 while he moved his family from a motel to an apartment for several weeks after the explosion.
Carla Wilson followed Weathers to the stand and told the jury, as car alarms were going off in the seconds after the blast, “The first thing I thought was, ‘Is this the end of the world.'”
Wilson said she walked out of her neighborhood that night in her pajamas.
Damages to her house totaled $55,000 and she was immediately unable to return to her home because, “it was an active crime scene.”
“The entire side of my house was not attached,” said Wilson who detailed for jurors the repairs to her home over the course of four months while she lived in a hotel.
Craig Burns’ dog ran loose for 24 hours after the blast before it approached a home in the neighborhood where the light were still turned on. Burns said he retrieved his pet through the Richmond Hill Facebook page.
Burns testified that losses to his home totaled $157,000 and total costs to his insurance company topped $212,000.
When Deputy Prosecutor Robinson asked Tony Quakenbush to describe what he thought when the explosion went off, he told jurors, “The only way I can describe it is like being in the movies…the only thing I can remember thinking is, ‘Oh, my God! The kids!”
Quakenbush said not only were his children okay, his one-year-old son slept through the blast. The resident then testified that he ran down Fieldfare Way to spot neighbors bloodied by the explosion and saw one house was obliterated and two others were on fire.
His own house was demolished at a loss of approximately $180,000.
Doris Jarnagin, who invited Fox 59 News into her home in the aftermath of the explosion to show us the damage, told jurors she wasn’t fully awakened by the blast that night and, “I thought I was actually dreaming.”
Jarnagin said she ran outside and, “I started screaming. I smelled gas.”
As her husband grabbed a crescent wrench and started turning off gas meters, Jarnagin loaded her dog and a few belongings into her car as the couple eventually drove away and evacuated to the nearby school where they met a stranger who invited them to spend the night at his house.
Jarnagin’s home was demolished at a cost of $165,000 to rebuild.
The Jarnagins eventually moved away from Richmond Hill.
On one of his few cross-examinations of neighbors before they left the witness stand, Defense Attorney Shircliff asked Jarnagin if she had seen Shirley either at Mary Bryan Elementary School later that night or days later in a televised interview.
“The first that I saw her was in maybe the hotel we were staying at,” answered Jarnagin, “and she was in a hallway and that’s the first that I ever seen her and someone pointed her out.”
Based on previous answers, Shircliff is trying to establish witness observations about the behaviors of his client or his girlfriend and co-defendant in the hours and days after the explosion.
Shirley is slated to testify against Leonard in exchange for a guilty plea to reduced charges and an agreement to answer questions in court.
Her depositions given to prosecutors have already resulted in charges filed against two other men, Glen Hults and Gary Thompson who stand accused alongside Leonard and Bob Leonard, Jr., of participating in the murderous conspiracy.