Richmond Hill pre-trial: A war over words

Bob Leonard (WISH Photo)

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WISH) — Flanked by a deputy, he walked slowly in his orange jumpsuit from the jail over to the Allen County courthouse.

Then, he spoke.

Bob Leonard, one of five suspects prosecutors say was part of a conspiracy to blow up a home and collect insurance money, spoke.

“I kept asking for an attorney and they wouldn’t give me one,” Leonard said, responding to a reporter’s question.

Leonard was describing his Nov. 20, 2012 interview with police. His defense attorneys were fighting Wednesday to keep it out of his upcoming trial in Fort Wayne. Prosecutors say it should be admitted.

At issue is whether the police interrogation should have stopped after Leonard requested to speak to an attorney. Prosecutors contend he was not in custody, was free to leave and continued to offer information even after he mentioned talking to an attorney.

“He was not a suspect (at the time), he was not in police custody and could not have been arrested based on the information police had on Nov. 20, 2012,” said Marion County deputy prosecutor Denise Robinson.

“He wouldn’t stop talking. He asked for a lawyer but then said he wanted to cooperate. That’s the heart of our contention.”

Defense attorney Ted Minch the statements should be suppressed.

“We believe the case law is clear in that the conversation has to break off,” Minch said. “It can’t be rehabilitated by telling (Leonard) he is free to leave because he was in custody.”

Minch said in open court Wednesday that a transcript of the interview with police will show Bob Leonard asked an IMPD homicide detective if he would need an attorney three minutes into the questioning. Roughly a minute later, Minch said, Leonard said he would need an attorney.

Leonard told I-Team 8’s Bennett Haeberle he asked for an attorney ” a dozen” times during his interview with police 10 days after the November 20, 2012 explosion that killed Dion and Jennifer Longworth and damaged 80 homes in the Richmond Hill neighborhood. A copy of the transcript and the video of the interview were not immediately available but were entered into evidence and are being reviewed by Judge Fran Gull. She said she would reach her decision on the statements within two weeks.

Leonard’s trial is set to begin in January and last several weeks. It was moved to Fort Wayne from Indianapolis because of pre-trial publicity.

What began as a pre-trial hearing developed into a war over words — with fights over the definitions of police custody and what defines a police interrogation?

Four IMPD officers testified during Wednesay’s hearing. Det. Jeff Wager said he approached Bob Leonard bear his mobile home on the city’s southwest side on November 20, 2012 to tell him they were serving a search warrant on his home and wanted to ask him questions about his half brother, Mark.

Bob Leonard was patted down, handcuffed and taken to IMPD headquarters for questioning. During the ride to the homicide office, a detective testified that Leonard asked if he was under arrest. The detective said he didn’t think so.

Later at police headquarters, other IMPD detectives acknowledged that Leonard was not told he was free to go until after he asked for an attorney. But even then the police questioning continued for two hours, Minch said.

Denise Robinson said that Bob spoke about his half-brother Mark’s other alleged schemes to defraud women and his gambling habits. It’s testimony that Robinson is “not important” to prosecution’s case. Minch said he thinks it is important for two reasons : it could be used as evidence against Bob or could be used against him if he chooses to testify on his own behalf.

Mark Leonard was convicted of 53 counts including murder, arson and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. Prosecutors allege Mark Leonard’s greed led him to concoct a scheme to collect insurance money after what was supposed to be a fire at the home of his then-girlfriend Monserrate Shirley. That plan went horribly wrong that ended in the deadly explosion that killed the Longworths and decimated the Richmond Hill neighborhood.

Dion’s father, John Longworth, appeared Wednesday but did not testify. He said he wanted to familiarize himself with Fort Wayne. He said his experience in South Bend with Mark Leonard’s trial led him to believe if he is more familiar with his surroundings it’s less stressful.

“I wanted to see Fort Wayne, the judge, the defense, Mr. Leonard…”

When asked what went through his mind seeing Bob Leonard for the first time, he said: “I can’t say. I can’t say.”

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