INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A Marion County judge has denied a request from prosecutors to try all three suspects in the 2012 Richmond Hill explosion case at the same time. That means each suspect will likely face their own lengthy trial.
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, and could put the fairness of such a trial in jeopardy. They also argued that there are no legal grounds in Indiana for the request to be granted.
In a ruling issued out of court late Friday, Judge Carlisle denied the prosecution’s request, saying it could interfere with the suspects’ rights to a fair trial.
“All parties are in agreement that this is a complex case that may involve over 200 witnesses, multiple exhibits and several weeks of trial. Therefore, the State of Indiana’s concern for judicial economy is well taken. However, this must be weighed against the defendants’ right to a fair trial, which comports with due process,” Carlisle wrote in her ruling.
Carlisle also wrote that Indiana statutes explicitly authorize a trial court to order such concurrent trials, nor is there any precedent of such a request after a judge had already ruled that defendants would be allowed severed, or separate trials.
“The potential benefits of a multi-jury trial are outweighed by the significant potential for prejudice,” Carlisle went on to write in the ruling. “To ensure a fair trial for the State of Indiana and each defendant in these cases, the Court believes separate trials are necessary.”
A spokesperson for Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said he is reviewing the ruling before commenting.
Shirley’s defense attorney, Jim Voyles, declined to comment, saying his filings opposing the motion speak for themselves. Messages left seeking comment from Mark and Bob Leonard’s defense attorneys were not immediately returned.
Prosecutors said they would have likely asked 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. At least 18 jurors are expected to be called for each case.
The trials for all three suspects are set to begin in June, but start dates could be altered based on the ruling. It also orders Mark Leonard to be tried first, followed by Shirley, and finally Bob Leonard.
Judge Carlisle instructed both sides to tell her by the end of February whether they will be ready for that June trial date, or will need more time to prepare.
She also issued a filing late Friday asking for additional time before a final ruling will be made on a defense request to dismiss the possibility of life sentences without the possibility of parole if the suspects are convicted.
All three suspects are due back in court for a pre-trial status hearing in early March.