Richmond Hill explosion suspects to get separate trials

Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard and Robert Leonard

A Marion County judge ruled that all three suspects in the Richmond Hill explosion will have separate trials. She rejected the prosecution's request to hold one trial will three concurrent juries.

Monserrate Shirley, her boyfriend Mark Leonard and his brother Robert Leonard face charges of murder, arson and insurance fraud for the explosion of a south side home November 10, 2012.  Shirley's neighbors, Dion and Jennifer Longworth, died in the explosion.

Marion County prosecutors initially planned to try all three of the suspects together, but in October of last year, both Shirley and Mark Leonard won their requests for separate trials.

Prosecutors argued that would multiply the costs of the trials dramatically and could take nearly a year to hold all three trials. They also argued that the costs and other resources involved to bring in witnesses and prepare for three separate trials would be prohibitive. Prosecutors say they expect about 200 witnesses to be called. They suggested holding one trial with three separate juries.

All three attorneys objected to that plan.

Attorneys for Shirley told the court concurrent trials will make it difficult for their client to get a fair trial. They also called it a "logistical nightmare" and questioned using a large and complicated case as a test case for concurrent trials.

Mark Leonard's attorney said prosecutors were asking the court to "conduct an experiment with what may arguably be the largest trial in Marion County history." Bob Leonard's lawyers called the plan "a gimmick."

In her ruling, Judge Shelia Carlisle noted that no Indiana law authorizes the use of concurrent jury trials. She also notes that when other state and federal jurisdictions have used dual jury trials, "many do so with caution and do not recommend their use on complicated cases, lengthy jury trials or cases where the state is seeking capital punishment."

The trials are currently scheduled to begin in June 16. Some estimates are that each trial could last six weeks.

The judge ordered each part to file a written report by February 28 either asking for a continuance of the trial of confirming a June start date.