Richmond Hill trial: Judge denies mistrial as week 3 of testimony begins

South Bend courthouse
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Judge John Marnocha denied a mistrial Monday, saying the disputed evidence doesn't say anything about Mark Leonard's guilt in the case.

Defense motions denied

Judge Marnocha started week three of testimony by hearing new motions filed by the defense team since court adjourned Thursday evening.

The defense filed a motion for mistrial based on prosecutorial misconduct. They claimed the prosecution, through the omission of facts and use of specific questioning regarding two Citizens Energy training videos admitted into evidence last week, intentionally misled the judge and jury to believe the videos were reconstructions as opposed to demonstrations.

Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson called the motion "a complete misrepresentation of the testimony." She felt she and her co-counsel made it clear the videos, while created for this trial, were of training procedures that have been in use for years and were not intended as a reconstruction specifically of the Richmond Hill explosion.

The defense further complained prosecutors kept them from seeing the videos ahead of time, saying they didn't get so see them until the day they were produced at court; prosecutors insisted they made the videos available as soon as was possible and made the defense aware of the videos' existence in an appropriate timeline.

Judge Marnocha said there is no dispute that the home exploded from a build-up of natural gas, so the videos don't put Leonard in "grave peril" of not getting a fair trial. The motion for a mistrial was denied.

In a separate motion, defense attorneys also objected to limitations imposed last week on questions they wanted to raise during cross-examination of multiple witnesses. The questions they wanted to ask pertained to Monserrate Shirley. Prosecutors argued at the time the questions were outside the scope of examination and were intended to impeach Shirley before she ever testified. The judge agreed, and denied that motion as well.

All-day testimony

The biggest box of evidence we've seen so far rolled into the courtroom Monday. It contained the remains of the microwave oven that investigators claim Mark Leonard and his accomplices used to detonate the explosion.

The twisted, rusted and destroyed microwave is among the hundreds of pieces of evidence retrieved from the blast site. Its pieces were displayed on the courtroom floor for jurors to see.

Prosecutors had former crime scene specialist Lisa Liebig [LEE-big] on the witness stand all day. She heard the explosion from her own home in Irvington, roughly 10 miles north of Richmond Hill, but did not respond to the scene at that time. She was assigned to the case Tuesday morning during her regular shift.

On her first day, Liebig was asked to focus on an exterior house door and pieces of a glass storm door found in front of the home across the street from Monserrate Shirley's home. She worked on those items outside the security fence surrounding the Shirley home, one home to the north and two to the south, set up by IMPD to protect the integrity of the scene.

"That was one of the most secure crime scenes I have ever worked," she said.

In addition to everyday protective gear CSIs always wear (e.g. latex gloves), Liebig also had to wear a hard hat and face mask while working at the Richmond Hill scene.

The Wednesday after the explosion, she was called back out to the scene to help organize evidence collection - a task she continued for 16 days over the course of November and December. In total, the crime lab collected more than 400 pieces of evidence - so much, she said two storage pods roughly the size of small trailers had to be brought in to house it all.

In court Monday, she identified that evidence and pictures of it for jurors. Jurors saw 360 exhibits of all sizes Monday, including the front doors of Monserrate Shirley's home, which were later tested for DNA and fingerprints. They also saw a furnace, a cell phone and casino membership cards with Mark Leonard's name on them.

Prosecutors may argue that if investigators found items that small, they should have found the shut-off valve missing from the gas-fired fireplace.

Despite the litany of small items found, investigators did not find televisions. Liebig said she did not process or recall seeing a single television set in all of the debris she and her colleagues sifted through.

Taking shape

Prosecutors have said they expect to spend most of this week documenting the origin and cause of the explosion.

While tedious and time-consuming, Monday's testimony started a key step in the prosecution's strategy to do just that by piecing together the massive crime scene for jurors using hundreds of pieces of evidence, one piece at a time. Prosecutors have shown jurors more than 1,000 pieces of evidence since the trial started (roughly a third of those came Monday alone), but they plan to show another 1,000-1,500 before finally resting their case.

Other than reporters, there were only two spectators in the courtroom Monday, including Dion Longworth's father. Had his son not been killed that night in November 2012, today would have been his 37th birthday.

Judge Marnocha will hear arguments tomorrow morning at 9:30 regarding a witness scheduled to take the stand later in the day. Testimony is expected to resume at 10:00.

Monserrate Shirley struck a deal with prosecutors and may testify against her former boyfriend as early as Thursday.

Case background

Mark Leonard, 46, is on trial for his role as the alleged mastermind of a plot to blow up the house of his then-girlfriend, Monserrate Shirley, in order to collect $300,000 in insurance.

Shirley will testify against him in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Mark Leonard faces 46 counts of arson, two counts of conspiracy to commit arson and one count of conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. Leonard's half-brother Bob Leonard is also accused in the plot, along with two others.

Jennifer Longworth, 36, and her husband, John Dion Longworth, 34, died in the blast.

See all videos, stories and documents related to the Richmond Hill explosion

Week 1 trial recap

Week 2 trial recap