Richmond Hill trial: DNA evidence and insurance payouts

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Prosecutors began tying up loose ends Tuesday, revealing the DNA evidence from the Marion County Crime Lab and bringing in insurance agents to explain what came of Monserrate Shirley's claim against her homeowners policy.

IMPD Det. Jeff Wager told the court he obtained surveillance video of Mark and Bob Leonard eating at the Old Meridian Pub the week of the explosion, and confirmed that visit with Mark's receipt from the meal. He also confirmed through video surveillance and a receipt that the Leonard brothers visited the Gas Light Inn together the night before the explosion.

Det. Wager requested cell phone records from Mark Leonard, Monserrate Shirley, Bob Leonard, Glenn Holts and Mark Duckworth. By comparing those records, he found that Mark Leonard and Mark Duckworth had no direct phone or text contact after the explosion.

DNA evidence revealed

He also requested DNA samples to be taken from Mark Leonard, David Gill and Glenn Holts. Tanya Fishburn, a forensic scientist with the Marion County Crime Lab, was the one who ran those tests.

She took the stand Tuesday, first to explain to the jury what DNA is and what test results can mean. She then walked the jury through the results of her tests. Many of the tests came back as inconclusive, but there were five positive results:

  • Bob Leonard's DNA was confirmed to be on the front door of Monserrate Shirley's home
  • Bob Leonard's DNA was confirmed in several places on Mark Leonard's white van:
    • driver's front interior door handle
    • steering wheel
    • turn signal
    • gear shift
    • trunk handle
  • Mark Leonard's DNA was confirmed on the letter written from Mark Leonard to jailhouse informant Robert Smith

Insurance policies

Donald Engle was Shirley's State Farm agent. He first took her on as a client in 1998 when she was still married to John Shirley.

One of his office workers, Anita Robinson, took the call from Shirley asking to raise her coverage on the house from $159,000 to $300,000. When Robinson asked Shirley why she wanted the increase, she just said, "I bought a lot of new stuff."

State Farm called Engle early Sunday morning after the explosion making sure he knew that he had an insured client facing a major loss, possibly even a total loss, and that he needed to call her immediately. He first called Anita Robinson and she remembered telling him, "She did increase her coverage, but that was a long time ago." Engle then called Shirley that afternoon and she came into his office Monday morning to discuss her homeowners policy.

Engle was able to advance her $5,000 from her policy payout, as is standard procedure so clients are able to pay for basic housing and clothing needs until the full policy is paid. Leonard was with her at that meeting, but Engle said he did not speak much.

Additional payments were made later, but they came directly from State Farm so he could not testify as to their total value.

Engle specified that Shirley was the recipient of the money - Mark Leonard was not on the policy, and as such did not stand to benefit from the money unless Shirley chose to give it to him. During cross-examination, the defense also brought up that even when she and John Shirley were still married, it was Monserrate who handled everything related to the insurance policies. John's name was also still on the policy as an "additional insured," but since his name had been removed from the mortgage, he would not have been eligible for any money paid out on the homeowners policy.

The jury was given copies of all of Shirley's policies:

  • homeowners
  • two autos
    • Leonard's Cadillac
    • Shirley's Taurus
  • motorcycle

State Farm investigation

Darcy Smith, State Farm's fire product investigator for Indiana, is responsible for finding out if a third party is responsible for causing losses. For example, if a faulty furnace causes a fire that destroys all or part of your home, it is her job to prove that's what happened so State Farm could file a lawsuit against the furnace's manufacturer to reimburse State Farm for the cost of your insurance claim.

She found out about the explosion by watching the news the night it happened, and she immediately started working.

"Whenever there's a large event like that...I prepare myself because we're probably going to be involved," said Smith. She explained that's because State Farm insures so many homes - specifically in the Indianapolis/Marion County area - it would be unlikely that none of the homes involved in such a massive event would be theirs. "I started to think about what we would need to do in case we had the home of origin or one of the other homes affected."

That night, she called a certified fire investigator with Shann Forensics, and they started talking about what they knew about the explosion. She hired him to conduct State Farm's investigation in the case, and they both went to the scene on Monday, November 12. It was Smith who suggested to the fire department that they put up a fence surrounding the four homes at the heart of the explosion. IFD agreed to the idea, saying it would benefit everyone, so she hired a fencing company.

Once the fence went up Monday night or Tuesday morning, neither Smith nor anyone else working for an insurance company had access to the scene until IFD released it when their own investigation was complete.

Fraud Investigation: Cadillac & Harley

When the insurance teams were allowed in, they found that not only was Monserrate Shirley's house destroyed, but two of Leonard's vehicles were damaged as well - a Cadillac and a Harley motorcycle in the garage. Amber Horine, a member of State Farm's special investigations unit for auto claims, was brought in to look at the case once Shirley filed a claim on each vehicle.

She said red flags were first raised in her mind because the Harley policy was in Shirley's name but Shirley did not have the necessary license to drive a motorcycle. Shirley also had never told State Farm about the fact that Leonard was living with her or that she had his vehicles on her policy.

Once she started asking questions, Horine found more items of concern. Leonard told her he paid $18,500 for the Harley, but he paid in cash and didn't provide a very good paper trail for proving he'd paid that much. In fact, a text conversation between himself and the Craigslist seller he'd gotten the bike from showed the seller only asked for $2,700. She tried to verify the details with the Craigslist seller, but he refused to talk with her.

So she turned to an independent investigator for answers.

Ed Nightingale is a master mechanic who works for Herndon & Associates, a private investigative firm that specializes in the cause and origin of fires and explosions. Horine tasked him with looking into the mechanical condition of both the Cadillac and Harley to determine what condition they were in before the explosion.

Despite both Leonard and Shirley claiming it was in pristine condition, Nightingale found evidence the Cadillac had been in a wreck before the explosion, destroying one of the headlights, bending the engine cradle and gouging the right front wheel. The car had then continued to be driven, leaving evidence of grinding in the undercarriage.

Not only was the car not in excellent condition before the explosion, according to Nightingale, it was not even drivable.

What's more, Nightingale said the headlight that wasn't damaged in the pre-explosion crash had been manually removed and placed in the backseat of the car. He also said the trunk was open before the explosion happened (He said if it had been blown open by the force of the explosion, the locking mechanism that holds the trunk closed would have been damaged in the process, but he found no such damage).

It was his opinion these were signs that the car was in the early stages of being stripped for parts.

The Harley also showed signs of being stripped for parts. The handlebar was no longer attached to the rest of the motorcycle, which Nightingale said was not something that would have happened because of a fire or explosion. He said the rest of the bike also showed signs of being in a wreck or suffering some other form of impact before the explosion, so it also was not in the excellent condition Leonard and Shirley had claimed it was.

In the end, State Farm denied the insurance claims for both the Cadillac and the Harley.

Fraud Investigation: House

Just as Amber Horine investigates potential insurance fraud for State Farm's auto insurance policies, Ken Bailey investigates potential fraud for the company's home insurance division.

During his interview with Monserrate Shirley, she told him about how they came home from the casino the weekend before the explosion to a frigid house because of an issue with the thermostat. Shirley testified last week that was just a cover story to explain why they were spending the night at a hotel. When talking with Bailey, though, she said Leonard had installed a new thermostat before they went to the casino that weekend and it malfunctioned. She said they did call a heating and cooling company, but no one ever came out because Leonard just replaced the thermostat with the original, and "that seemed to fix the problem." She also told Bailey that her daughter had smelled gas around the home in the weeks leading up to the explosion.

When he asked about the increase in her insurance policy, she mentioned buying two big screen TVs over the previous year. She couldn't remember the manufacturer but did remember the store they'd bought them at. She also claimed there were other high-end items in the house - including a Picasso she said she'd bought in Puerto Rico - but then said she didn't care about money, claiming, "I could walk away with just my clothes and I'd be fine."

In his own interview, Leonard said there was $20,000 cash in the home at the time of the explosion, but search crews never found more than a few hundred in the rubble.

In the end, Shirley's home insurance claim was also denied.

Looking ahead

Prosecutors are on track to wrap up their case by the end of the day Wednesday.

"Right now, we're wrapping up some loose ends," Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson told reporters after court Tuesday. "The jury has heard quite a bit of the testimony in the case. Now we've got those few unanswered questions....They know what's coming. They heard today who they're going to hear from tomorrow and then they'll have the case."

Testimony Wednesday, according to Robinson, will include more about the core samples taken from the house as well as the traces of gasoline found on the floor, witnesses from Menards, the Old Meridian Pub and Gas Light Inn, then prosecutors will wrap everything up with lead investigator Det. Jeff Wager.

Assuming they do finish Wednesday, defense attorneys told Judge John Marnocha they can wrap up their case Thursday morning. That means the trial is still on track for the jury to begin deliberations no later than Monday.

Court resumes Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.

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