Indiana house explosion ringleader appeals murder conviction
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) An attorney for a man convicted in a deadly Indianapolis house explosion urged the Indiana Supreme Court Thursday to set aside his convictions, saying testimony that he wanted a witness killed should not have been presented at his trial.
Attorney Victoria Bailey said Mark Leonard’s right to counsel was violated because he didn’t have an attorney with him when he spoke to a government informant about his alleged plans to have the witness killed following his arrest in the house explosion.
Bailey called the right to counsel “the bedrock upon which the American criminal justice system is built” and told the justices that Leonard’s constitutional guarantees were “lost and justice was not done.”
But deputy attorney general Andrew Kobe countered that Leonard’s rights had not been violated and the trial court properly admitted the statements about his efforts to hire a hit man to kill the witness.
Leonard, 47, was convicted last year of murder, arson and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud in the November 2012 natural gas explosion that destroyed his then-girlfriend’s home and killed two next-door neighbors. That blast damaged or destroyed more than 80 homes.
Prosecutors said Leonard, who was sentenced to two life sentences without parole, plus 75 years, was the ringleader of a plot to tamper with the natural gas flow in Monserrate Shirley’s home to destroy it after two failed attempts to burn it down. The goal was to collect $300,000 in insurance, prosecutors said.
Four others were charged in that scheme, including Leonard’s half brother, Bob Leonard, who was convicted in February of murder, arson and other charges. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences without parole, plus 70 years.
Shirley and another defendant have reached plea deals and the trial of a fifth person is pending.
A separate case against Mark Leonard in the murder-for-hire scheme is pending.
During Thursday’s hearing, Kobe also faulted Leonard’s argument that prosecutors failed to present sufficient evidence that he knowingly killed John and Jennifer Longworth, who lived next door to Shirley’s home.
Under questioning from the court, Kobe said Leonard should have known filling Shirley’s house with gas and then igniting that gas with a microwave timer would have killed anyone nearby, including the Longworths.
“Here the defendant blew up a 3,000-square-foot house that was 10 feet away from the nearest house. If you detonate a bomb like that you’re aware of a high probability that someone is going to die,” Kobe said.
But Justice Robert Rucker questioned Kobe about whether there was evidence Leonard knew that blowing up the house “would in fact kill somebody.”
“Other than the high probability, what’s the evidence he knew that?” he asked.
Kobe conceded there was no statement from Leonard that he knew detonating the house would result in deaths.
Chief Justice Loretta Rush said the justices would consider the arguments, but she did not indicate when they might rule.