Jury hears closing arguments in Indiana home explosion trial

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Posted: Jul 13, 2015 6:28 PM
Jury hears closing arguments in Indiana home explosion trial

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — An attorney for a man accused of planning a deadly home explosion that gutted an Indianapolis subdivision told jurors Monday that most of the state's case rests on the testimony of his client's former live-in girlfriend, whom he described as not credible.

"She's a master liar. She's a master manipulator. It's what she does," defense attorney John Shircliff said in describing Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard's former girlfriend.

He asked the jurors to ask themselves whether they could believe Shirley, who accepted a plea deal and testified against Leonard.

Shircliff also told the jurors the monthlong trial isn't about what makes sense based on what prosecutors speculated happened but what prosecutors have been able to prove against Leonard, who faces 53 counts including charges of murder, arson, conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.

Prosecutors say Leonard, 46, plotted with Shirley and his half brother, Bob Leonard, to blow up the home to collect $300,000 in insurance money.

Shircliff tried to portray Shirley as the main plotter, saying the prosecution's version that she just did what she was told by Leonard didn't make sense.

"Does she have no backbone at all? Doesn't she have any sense of who she is? I just don't buy it," he said.

Deputy Marion County Prosecutor Denise Robinson argued the evidence shows Leonard was the one behind the plan to burn down the house for insurance money. She said defense attorneys acknowledged his culpability in their opening statement when attorney Diane Black described what happened as "a stupid and selfish insurance fraud that went horribly wrong," saying it was only supposed to be a "small fire."

Robinson said she believes the most difficult question before the jurors is whether Leonard knowingly killed a couple living next door, Jennifer and John "Dion" Longworth. She said she doesn't believe Leonard intended to kill them, but he should have known through his action there was a "high probability" someone could be killed.

If the jury finds Leonard guilty in the deaths of the Longworths, they can convict him of murder or reckless homicide. Leonard also faces two counts of felony murder because the prosecution alleges the deaths occurred during the commission of a crime.

Deputy Prosecutor Mark Hollingsworth said Leonard began planning to burn the house shortly after moving in with Shirley, a year before the explosion. Hollingsworth said Leonard's claim that $20,000 in cash had been destroyed in the explosion showed how greedy he was.

"Even with the house destroyed, the neighborhood destroyed, he wants more," Hollingsworth said.

Jurors deliberated the case for about 25 minutes late Monday afternoon before being sequestered for the evening in a hotel. Deliberations are scheduled to resume 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

About 40 people were in the courtroom Monday for closing arguments, including members of the Longworth family, residents of the Richmond Hill neighborhood whose homes were damaged and the media. The case was moved to South Bend because of the pretrial media attention in central Indiana.

More than 160 witnesses testified for the prosecution but the defense called just one witness who testified for a half hour. They then played a nine-minute video of a television interview that Shirley gave following the explosion before resting their case.