Richmond Hill suspects object to simultaneous trial plan

Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard, Bob Leonard, left to right. (Provided photos / Marion County Jail)
Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard, Bob Leonard, left to right. (Provided photos / Marion County Jail)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Attorneys for the three suspects accused of setting the 2012 explosion at Richmond Hill say there are no legal grounds to try their clients at the same time. The last of those arguments was filed in court late Thursday.

Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard and Bob Leonard, Jr. are each accused of more than 50 counts of arson and two counts of murder in connection with last year’s deadly house explosion in the Richmond Hill subdivision.

In October, Judge Sheila Carlisle granted a request from their defense attorneys to sever their cases, allowing each to be tried separately. Prosecutors had argued since the three were arrested together that they should be tried together. Separate trials could more than triple the costs and take as much as one year to complete, they argued.

Because of that cost and time commitment, prosecutors filed a motion in late November asking for each of the suspects separate trials to be held at the same time, in the same courtroom, but with three different juries.         

Defense attorneys voiced concerns that that plan could cause logistical problems.

In a filings made in late December, attorneys for Mark and Bob Leonard argued that there are no legal grounds in Indiana for the request to be granted.

“This, admittedly by the State [has] never been utilized in the State of Indiana,” wrote Bob Leonard’s attorney, Ted Minch, in the filing. “The utter dearth of authority or precedent for this gimmick in the State of Indiana notwithstanding, the State’s request for concurrent trials ignores the practicalities associated with this Case that, on their face, prohibit the utilization of concurrent trials in this Case.  Moreover, the State’s request for concurrent trials amounts to nothing more than an end around to protect its interest in having these defendants tried together despite the overwhelming reasoning that supports the Court’s determination that these defendants should be tried separately. “

In an eight page filing late Thursday, Shirley’s attorney, Jim Voyles, again cited “aggravating factual conflicts” as a reason why the trials should not be held simultaneously. It’s the same argument he laid out in asking for the trials to be severed last year.

“[That includes] Mark Leonard’s history of conning women and controlling them, Mark Leonard’s almost paralyzing control over Shirley, Mark Leonard’s prior insurance scams, etc,” wrote Voyles in the filing. “The State should have known the inherent risk of separate trials being conducted. As well-stated by counsels for Mark Leonard, the State is asking  this Court to conduct an experiment of concurrent juries on a huge stakes trial because of its filing decisions.”

Voyles also laid out arguments saying there exists no legal precedent for the judge to allow such simultaneous trials. He also wrote that the he is concerned about “the ability to zealously and aggressively cross examine the State’s witnesses, because of the boundaries that will have to be set to ensure they do not cross into forbidden territory of a co-defendant.”

Reached by 24-Hour News 8 Friday morning, Voyles said he was out of town and wouldn’t comment further on the response.

“Our motion will speak for itself and lays out our argument,” he said.

Prosecutors would likely ask for the trial to be moved to an outside location like a high school gymnasium or auditorium to make the plan happen, because Marion County courtrooms aren’t big enough to fit the jurors who would be involved in the case, not to mention reserved space for the public. Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson said she will ask the judge for no fewer than 18 jurors per case, bringing the total to at least 54.

“The idea of going to some gymnasium with dividers and separate facilities to conduct this trial is just not that simple,” Voyles wrote in response. “This trial will be huge. There are bound to be unexpected needs that come up during trials that could not be met just due to the location of the trial.”

Judge Sheila Carlisle extended the time allowed for defense attorneys to respond to the proposal until Friday. Her ruling on the trial structure could now be issued at any time.

The trials for all three suspects are set to begin in June, but start dates could be altered based on that ruling.

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