Prosecutors: No plea deal expected in first Richmond Hill case

Mark Leonard was charged with arson and murder in the 2012 Richmond Hill explosion. (Provided Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A plea deal with the lead suspect in the 2012 south side explosion is not expected in advance of his scheduled June trial, Marion County Prosecutors said Wednesday.

The statement came one month after defense attorneys announced that prosecutors rejected a previous plea offer they had put on the table. Details of that previous offer from Mark Leonard have not been made public.

Leonard, his half-brother Bob Leonard, Jr., Monserrate Shirley, Gary Thompson and Glenn Hults are all charged in connection with the November 2012 house explosion at Richmond Hill that killed Dion and Jennifer Longworth and damaged or destroyed more than 80 homes.

Following an administrative hearing in the case in Indianapolis Wednesday, Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson again said she anticipates the trial will begin as scheduled on June 4 in St. Joseph County. The case was moved there amid concerns over intense media coverage in central Indiana.

“I can’t talk about plea agreements ethically. I can’t talk about anything that’s done outside the courtroom in that context. All I can say is: we’ve got our subpoenas out. We’ve got our hotel reservations made. We’ve made arrangements for the evidence to go to South Bend. We’re going to be prepared to go to trial,” Robinson said.

EVIDENCE CHALLENGES

Disagreements also remained Wednesday over what should be allowed as evidence at that trial.

Leonard’s defense team began the hearing by asking Judge John Marnocha that a separate charge of conspiracy to commit murder be ruled inadmissible at the main trial in June. Prosecutors allege Leonard tried to hire a hitman from behind bars in the Marion County Jail to have a key witness in the case killed.

His attorneys argue jurors could be unfairly prejudiced by knowing about that charge, which is likely to be tried separately from the main case.

Robinson said she will fight to have it included.

“I think the importance to the defense of that evidence is how strongly they’re trying to keep it out,” she said. “It’s another piece of the evidence. If we didn’t have it, we’d still be trying this case. But, as I indicated, I think the jury is entitled to hear all of the evidence. And, that includes this particular evidence.”

Leonard’s attorneys have also asked that evidence of Leonard’s alleged involvement in prior ‘insurance scams’ be barred from trial, but that character evidence on witnesses like Robert Smith, a jailhouse informant used by prosecutors, be allowed to be introduced at trial.

Judge John Marnocha agreed to take all requests under advisement. He ruled earlier this month that incriminating statements made about Mark Leonard by Bob Leonard before he was read his Miranda rights will not be admissible at trial.

That ruling will not hinder the state’s case, Robinson said Wednesday.

“As I indicated when we were in South Bend making that argument, there was not much I would have intended to use from those — if anything — at the outset,” she said.

TRIAL LOGISTICS

Judge Marnocha also addressed a number of logistical issues surrounding the trial, which is anticipated to take at least six weeks to complete.

At least 280 potential jurors will be summoned for jury selection. Seventy will be called each day. But, prosecutors said Wednesday they don’t anticipate it will take all four days to seat an acceptable jury of 18 people, comprised of 12 jurors and six alternates.

“I don’t think that’s going to be necessary in South Bend. I think his 140 (potential jurors called) for the first two days is more realistic. Obviously, you always get some people who don’t show up. But, I think the 200-some would be too few if this trial would be held in Indianapolis. So, I think the judge is just making sure we have enough jurors to go to trial,” Robinson said.

Once jurors are selected, Judge Marnocha said Wednesday he does not intend to sequester them, except during deliberations.

Leonard’s defense team also asked that he be transported to the St. Joseph County Jail by May 29, in preparation for what will likely be the most extensive and expensive trial in Marion County history.

“We’ve had time to prepare for this, and, as I’ve said, we anticipate going to trial on June 4,” Robinson said. “We’ll be ready.”

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