Daily Journal staff reports
The judge hearing the trial of a man charged in a deadly southside house explosion said he’ll rule later on whether prosecutors can admit audio recordings of a man who initially survived the blast before dying.
Prosecutors argued during a pretrial hearing that audio recordings of John “Dion” Longworth show the manner and cause of his death. However, defendant Mark Leonard’s defense attorney, Diane Black, said the recordings could be prejudicial against him.
“There’s no relevant reason to have the audio recording of Mr. Longworth’s last moments,” Black said.
Firefighters made the audio recordings moments before Longworth died of his injuries.
The November 2012 explosion killed Longworth and his wife, Jennifer Longworth, who lived next door to the house that exploded. The blast damaged or destroyed more than 80 homes.
The Richmond Hill neighborhood is located just north of Greenwood. Jennifer Longworth was a second-grade teacher at Southwest Elementary School.
St. Joseph Superior Court Judge John Marnocha said he’ll decide during the trial whether to admit the audio recordings and autopsy photos of the Longworths.
“What is not gruesome to us may be gruesome to a regular person,” Marnocha said.
Jury selection begins today in Leonard’s trial. He faces more than 50 counts, including murder, conspiracy and insurance fraud. Opening statements are scheduled for Monday, and prosecutors have said the trial could last six weeks. The case was moved to South Bend because of pretrial publicity in central Indiana.
Prosecutors have said the explosion was a scheme to collect $300,000 in insurance. It occurred when the home of Leonard’s then-girlfriend, Monserrate Shirley, filled up with gas after a fireplace valve and a gas line regulator were removed.
Shirley has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit arson and has agreed to testify against Leonard. Three other people face charges in the case.