Richmond Hill suspect objects to concurrent trials - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Richmond Hill suspect objects to concurrent trials

Updated:
INDIANAPOLIS -

All three suspects accused in the Richmond Hill neighborhood explosion oppose the state's proposal of holding one trial with three separate juries. 

In a new court filing, attorneys for Monserrate Shirley say concurrent trials will make it difficult for their client to get a fair trial. They also question using a large and complicated case as a test case for concurrent trials. 

Attorneys for Mark and Bob Leonard made substantially the same arguments in papers filed at two weeks earlier.

Shirley and the Leonard brothers are accused in the November 2012 explosion that killed Dion and Jennifer Longworth and destroyed dozens of homes in the south side neighborhood.  Prosecutors say the plan to blow up Shirley's home was part of an effort to commit insurance fraud.

After the judge agreed to give each suspect a separate trial, prosecutors proposed holding one trial with a different jury for each suspect. They argued the cost and resources needed for three separate trials would be prohibitive.

Shirley's attorneys say that plan will likely violate her due process right and her right to a fair trial.  Attorney Jim Voyles also says the amount of evidence "would require the trials to take longer than if separated out because of the shuffling back and forth of juries." 

He also says concurrent trials will cause problems for attorneys who may not be able to "zealously advocate" for their clients in fear of causing a mistrial. He says it will be a problem for attorneys reaching a crucial point in a cross examination to have to slow down to avoid crossing a boundary or to have to stop for a jury to leave.

Voyles calls the concurrent trial plan is a "logistical nightmare" as jurors are moved in and out of the courtroom because of evidence they may not be allowed to hear. He writes that "will spawn more speculation and suspicion that can ever be cured by any sort of admonishment."

The filing also suggests two different attorneys would need to cross examine each witness.

"The complexity of the case makes concurrent trials a recipe for mistrial disaster," Voyles writes.  He points out the unpredictability of many of the witnesses, especially on cross examination. "It could be a single statement made by one of these witnesses who have this type of information that could taint any of the defendants' rights."

As part of their argument, Mark's attorneys wrote, "The State is asking this Court to conduct an experiment with what may arguably be the largest trial in Marion County history." They say this is an especially bad idea because of the high stakes for the defendants who face life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Shirley's attorney points out that there is no precedent in Indiana about handle concurrent trials.  He cites several cases from around the country where judges have issued cautions about using multiple juries, particularly in complex cases.

Attorneys for Bob Leonard call efforts for concurrent trials an "experiment" and a "gimmick."

Attorneys for both Shirley and Mark Leonard express concern about finding an appropriate facility for concurrent trials given the space, security and logistical needs. Attorneys for Bob Leonard write, "Any consideration for judicial economy achieved by simultaneous juries in this Case will no doubt be far eclipsed by the costs and security concerns associated with moving simultaneous juries somewhere outside the Marion County City-County Building."

Attorneys for Mark and Bob Leonard filed their objections to current trials at the end of December.

As part of its proposal for concurrent trials, prosecutors noted that they expect about 200 witnesses to be called to testify. Mark Leonard's attorney questions having all of those witnesses take the stand, suggesting that parties might be willing to stipulate to the injuries and much of the damage. 

"There are serious concerns about the drum beat of repetition of such testimony and the undue prejudicial impact created by the jury hearing over and over again from each individual homeowner or resident," attorneys wrote.

All three trials are currently scheduled to begin in June, but that could change depending on how the judge rules on the trial structure.

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