Friend of south side explosion suspect willing to forgive

Monserrate Shirley
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A neighbor and friend of Monserrate Shirley, one of three people accused in the November 2012 Richmond Hill explosion that killed a married couple and led to dozens of homes being demolished, says she's willing to forgive.

Shirley entered the courtroom Wednesday in handcuffs, which prevented her from wiping away the tears when she saw her friend Abby Jackson sitting in the front row.

"Because we were friends and that's good and I still pray for justice. I'm frustrated and angry and we have good eye contact and that is why I come here but I still pray for justice," said Jackson.

She prays for justice because her home is one of the homes that Shirley and her boyfriend Mark Leonard and his brother Bob stand accused of blowing up. So now she comes to every hearing to maintain eye contact.

"It's hard because I have a heart of loving, forgiving and I have a heart of mercy and grace. It's hard but I also know that a neighborhood was found upside down. I know there are lives that are gone and even with that I pray for mercy and with my friendship with Moncy," said Jackson.

The judge asked for more time on the issue of whether the three could be sentenced to life in prison without parole if convicted, and she took the case of severance under advisement.

Wednesday's pre-trial hearing came one day after the release of an explosive memorandum by the Monserrate Shirley's defense team asking that their client be tried separately from the other two codefendants. The 13-page filing alleged she was the victim - an abused woman who had zero control while she was dating Mark Leonard.

Jackson, who has known Shirley for nine years, isn't so sure about that story.

"She told me Mark was taking care of them. Mark was taking care of her. She was good. Money was good. She would never have admitted any of that," said Jackson.

Prosecuting attorney Denise Robinson says that filing contained a lot of information a jury will likely never even hear.

"Many of these facts are inadmissible at trial. So the impact on a jury would be negligible. Now with life without parole at the time of penalty phase many of these facts might come into play," Robinson said.

If the cases are tried separately, it would take most of 2014 to carry them out, and it would also escalate costs dramatically.

"The jury will see all three defendants together, whether all three defendants are in the courtroom or not. We will make sure that happens," said Robinson.

Meanwhile, Abby Jackson will continue to attend the court hearings and trial. "because I want justice for the whole neighborhood and the Longworth family. I just want closure for all of us and I really like the eye contact with her because we had a relationship. All I want is the truth to be told. I want her to tell the truth and I can forgive just like God forgives."

Wednesday's hearing may have been more procedural in nature, but it also proved to be very revealing - showing just how complex this case really is. The next pre-trial hearing in the case is scheduled for December 4th.