The Associated Press
A South Bend judge will hear arguments today on whether to grant a mistrial for a man accused of rigging a deadly Indianapolis house explosion, after the man’s attorneys claimed his right to a fair trial had been jeopardized by a miscalculation of a witness who has yet to testify.
St. Joseph Superior Court Judge John Marnocha previously rejected a request by Mark Leonard’s attorneys for a continuance because of a corrected report on gas flow calculations by an employee of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson has said the error reduces by nearly half the amount of time it took for natural gas to fill the home to make it flammable.
On Wednesday, though, Marnocha said it was premature to rule on a new defense request for a mistrial, agreeing to postpone testimony for the day to give attorneys a chance to prepare to argue how the change in calculations affects the case.
“What I’m interested in is, does this substantially prejudice the rights of Mr. Leonard when it comes to his guilt or involvement in this matter?” Marnocha said.
Leonard is accused of conspiring with his then-girlfriend Monserrate Shirley and his half brother Bob Leonard to use natural gas to blow up the house just north of Greenwood to collect $300,000 in insurance. John “Dion” and Jennifer Longworth, who lived in the house next to the one Mark Leonard shared with Shirley, were killed Nov. 10, 2012. Jennifer Longworth was a Greenwood elementary school teacher.
Leonard is charged with murder, arson, conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. Two others also face charges.
Public defender Diane Black, who contends that prosecutors didn’t inform defense attorneys immediately about the potential flaw in the calculation, said she appreciated the judge giving the defense time to argue its case.
“I’m very thankful the judge took it seriously, like we do,” she said.
Robinson, who said Marnocha’s decision “protects the record,” said she was looking over the ATF report and another one when she noticed a discrepancy between them. She said that was on June 12, four days after the trial began, and she informed Leonard’s attorney that day. She said defense attorneys had the same reports and could have discovered the discrepancy on their own.
Robinson said the error changes the amount of time from 5.8 hours to about three hours.
“The ultimate question I have is whether the house filled up with gas in one hour or 10 hours, how does this affect Mr. Leonard’s culpability?” Marnocha asked. He said he didn’t initially see how it affected the defense case because there has not yet been any evidence that implicates Leonard.
Black told Marnocha she needed more time to review the impact of the corrected report on the defense’s case, saying the defense team’s expert had been out of town until Friday.
Marnocha had rejected a request Monday by defense attorneys for a mistrial over videos shown last week to the jury.
The trial was moved 140 miles from Indianapolis to South Bend because of extensive media coverage in central Indiana.