FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WISH) — Testimony has begun in the second trial connected to the Richmond Hill explosion.
The 2012 blast killed Dion and Jennifer Longworth and destroyed or damaged dozens of homes in the south side Indianapolis neighborhood. Five people were charged in connection to the explosion.
A jury convicted Mark Leonard last year in South Bend, and he is currently serving two life sentences without parole in Michigan City.
The trial for his half-brother, Bob Leonard, Jr., was moved to Fort Wayne because of pre-trial publicity, to find an impartial jury. Twelve jurors and six alternates will hear the case.
Bob Leonard sat in a suit and tie across from jurors during the first day of trial. He sat quietly, speaking to his attorneys at times, writing things down periodically.
In opening statements Thursday, deputy prosecutor Denise Robinson set the scene for jurors, explaining who they will hear from over the next several weeks: neighbors, first responders, investigators. She explained they will hear from fire investigators about how this happened, and then from police investigators about who was involved.
“This was not an accident,” she told jurors. “What happened on November 10, 2012… was not a gas leak. It was an intentional explosion, and you will hear why.”
Robinson also explained more about Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard’s then-girlfriend, and how she will testify in the trial.
Shirley, agreed to testify against her co-defendants as part of a plea deal.
Prosecutors say Mark Leonard was the ringleader behind the plot to collect a $300,000 insurance policy, by blowing up the home of his then-girlfriend, Monserrate Shirley. They say Bob Leonard aided Mark in setting the explosion. Prosecutors argue the explosion was started by filling up the home with gas from a fireplace, and using a microwave with a timer to spark the blast.
Prosecutors also say Bob Leonard’s DNA was found on the front door of that home, and on a white van that was seen at the home before the explosion.
The state told jurors they will hear from about 150 witnesses throughout the trial.
Many will be the same witnesses called during Mark Leonard’s trial: countless neighbors, investigators, family members, and first responders who tried to save victim Dion Longworth. However, prosecutors say Bob Leonard’s role and the circumstances will make this trial different.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Ted Minch reminded jurors their verdict cannot be based on emotion.
Minch told them, what they will see, and hear about in the next several weeks, “a warzone, probably doesn’t do it justice.”
He said although the prosecution will explain what happened, and how it happened, he said to listen carefully about “who” was involved.
Minch did not reveal much about his team’s defense strategy. He mentioned Monserrate Shirley and her financial situation, and ended by telling jurors, “as emotional and as difficult as this evidence will be to hear, we ask you to keep your eyes open.”
He said, “Bob Leonard is not responsible for the acts you’re going to have to hear about.”
The first witnesses to take the stand Thursday were first responders, the first firefighters to arrive to the scene.
The trial could last through the beginning of March.