Judge requests more time on south side explosion questions

Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard and Bob Leonard
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The three suspects in last November's deadly Richmond Hill explosion appeared in court Wednesday.

Monserrate Shirley, her boyfriend Mark Leonard, and his brother Bob Leonard are charged with blowing up Shirley's home for insurance money.  Their neighbors, Dion and Jennifer Longworth, were killed in the blast.

They face dozens of charges, including murder, arson and insurance fraud. All three are expected to go to trial in October. Shirley's attorney is hoping to convince a judge that his client would not get a fair trial unless she is tried separately.

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.

Shirley claiming abuse

13 Investigates learned new information about how Shirley, the woman at the center of the explosion, plans to defend herself and how she is turning on her former boyfriend, Mark Leonard. 

In a new filing with the court, Shirley claims she did not devise the plan and could not stop it because she is a victim of Mark Leonard's "manipulation, abuse and coerciveness." 

Shirley is asking the court to separate her case from her two co-defendants – Leonard and his brother Bob Leonard.  They each face approximately 50 charges of murder, arson and insurance fraud in relation to the November 10, 2012 explosion that killed two people, injured dozens and damaged more than 90 homes.

In an eleven-page court filing, Shirley's attorney details what she calls abusive behavior by both Mark Leonard and her own father. The filing also lays out accusations that the Leonard brothers were involved in other criminal activities, including prior insurance fraud plans, which Eyewitness News has reported previously. 

In explaining why she should be tried separately from the Leonards, Shirley's attorneys argue, "The evidence will reveal a naïve, controlled woman who blindly followed and trusted Mark Leonard and that he was so physically and emotionally abusive that she had zero power over her own fate."  Shirley's attorneys note that this is evidence Mark Leonard would not want introduced in court and that's why they believe the cases should be separated.

Shirley's attorneys say her long history of alleged abuse began with her father.  The most recent filing relates an instances where she says her father "demonstrated his demand for obedience by taking the family dog to the backyard, hanging it, then shooting and telling the children this could be them if they disobeyed him." 

The filing in Marion County also cites a reported history of two abusive marriages. 

"Given her lengthy history of being at the mercy of abusive men, it would explain why Shirley would not have the insight as to the plan Mark and Bob Leonard had constructed and why Shirley did exactly what she was told to do.  It does not justify the actions, but rather explains her inability to register what type of evil plan was being hatched by her co-defendants,"  wrote Shirley's attorneys, Jim Voyles and Jennifer Lukemeyer.

They characterize Mark Leonard as a man whose "actions and attitude bordered on sociopathic."

The court documents also say Mark Leonard moved to South Carolina for five years to flee from misdeeds. They say while living there he used the alias Marcus Aurelius.

The Marion County Prosecutor's office also recently made new evidence available to the defense teams, including surveillance video from two businesses near the closed hotel where investigators found some evidence in the case. 

The videos are from Dimitri's Restaurant and Gas Light Inn, both located near East Street and Thompson Road.  Investigators found a white van believed to be connected to explosion at the nearby building that housed the Cavaliers Resort and Conference Center, which they say Mark Leonard had access to.

Prosecutors have also sent requests to the insurance companies of at least 45 homeowners in the Richmond Hill asking for copies of the insurance policy, any claims submitted after November 10, and any payments for work done after the explosion.  Prosecutors are also asking for any photographs, statements under oath or expert reports related to the explosion.

Both Leonards and Shirley are due in court Wednesday.