‘Test jury’ selected for Indy home explosion suspect

Mark Leonard walks into a Marion County courtroom. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — After just four hours of questioning Tuesday, prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed on a 12-member “test jury” for one of the suspects in the 2012 south side explosion case. The judge hearing the case said she’ll rule on a request from prosecutors to keep the case in Marion County by Wednesday morning.

The announcement of the 12-member selection came from Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson, just before the court broke for lunch at 12:15 p.m.

“We interviewed 20 people, and we have effectively selected 12 jurors,” she told the judge. “And six others are under advisement. So, I would make a motion to dismiss [the defense motion for change of venue]. The defense is not entitled to a further exercise of this.”

Judge Sheila Carlisle denied that motion, but agreed to reconsider it after an afternoon session of question produced an additional 12 selected jurors. She told both sides she would issue her ruling by Wednesday morning.

“Of the 38 jurors we interviewed, 24 were selected. There’s no showing there that a constitutional jury can’t be met here in Marion County,” Robinson told the judge.

The test jury is designed to help determine whether an impartial jury could be found here in Marion County to try Mark Leonard’s case. Leonard, his brother Bob, and Monserrate Shirley each face nearly 50 counts of arson and murder in connection with the November 2012 explosion.

During questioning of test jurors Tuesday morning, Leonard’s attorneys hammered home the same question to jurors: how much have you heard about the Richmond Hill explosion?

The answers were telling: of the 38 “test jurors” called for individual questioning, just four said they had no prior knowledge of the case. That proves a “general atmosphere of prejudice throughout the community,” Leonard’s attorneys Deanna Martin, Diane Black and Ray Cassanova argued to the judge.

Throughout the test jury selection, Martin, Black and Cassanova argued that intense media coverage of the explosion tainted the jury pool here in Marion County. Several jurors admitted under questioning that they felt they could not be impartial because of what they had seen and heard about the case.

“It would [be hard], it would,” test juror Linda Copeland told I-Team 8 following her dismissal. “Because [Dion and Jennifer Longworth] died, and because of what I’ve heard in the news. It was pretty well publicized.”

Other jurors promised they could put those feelings aside, and base their decisions on the facts presented to them in court.

“Everybody knows that as a jury you’re supposed to be impartial,” test juror Jacob Glowner told I-Team 8 following his dismissal. “That’s part of it. You decide on the facts, not what you’ve heard on the news.”

None of the test jurors will actually decide any part of the case. They’re just being used to give the judge information on whether the trial should be moved out of Marion County, whether an outside jury should be brought into Marion County, or whether the case could be fairly tried in Indianapolis.

Test jury selection is slated to continue Wednesday morning, but could be called off if Judge Carlisle agrees to deny the change of venue motion.

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