2nd Indianapolis house blast trial moved to Allen County; another suspect seeks 2-part trial

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INDIANAPOLIS — A judge on Friday moved the murder and arson trial of one of four suspects in a deadly 2012 Indianapolis house explosion, and attorneys for another suspect are asking for a two-part trial.

Marion Superior Court Judge Sheila Carlisle granted Bob Leonard's request for a change of venue, sending the case to Allen County. Leonard will be transferred to the custody of the Allen County Sheriff, The Indianapolis Star reported (http://indy.st/1DNWr2n ).

The trial of his brother, Mark Leonard, already has been moved to St. Joseph County, and his attorneys are asking for a two-part trial. The first trial would focus on proving whether arson occurred, and the second would concern who's responsible.

Mark Leonard's attorneys argue in a court filing that prosecutors must first prove through scientific evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt that arson caused the explosion that killed two people, injured 13 others and damaged dozens of homes in a south side subdivision. Only after arson was proven would prosecutors be allowed to present evidence proving Leonard's guilt, if his attorneys get their way.

The goal is to separate scientific evidence from that which would play to jurors' sympathies or outrage.

"The risk that the jurors will be swayed by sympathies ... as opposed to relying on objective reliable scientific evidence is particularly high in this case given the extensive media coverage, nature of the character evidence and the number of homeowners and/or injured testifying," the defense filing said.

Prosecutors plan to present graphic photos of John and Jennifer Longworth, who were killed in the explosion, and a recording of John Longworth's last minutes alive, court records say. Residents who were injured and whose homes were damaged or destroyed also will testify. Leonard's defense attorneys argue that such evidence is meant to convince jurors of Leonard's guilt but does not prove whether the explosion was intentional.

A judge has not yet ruled on the defense request.

The Leonards are charged with murder and more than 40 counts of arson and conspiracy to commit arson in the explosion at the home owned by Mark Leonard's then-girlfriend, Monserrate Shirley. Shirley last month pleaded guilty to two felony arson conspiracy counts and has agreed to testify against other suspects.

Prosecutors have said the explosion was a scheme to collect $300,000 in insurance and occurred when the home filled up with gas after a fireplace valve and a gas line regulator were removed. They say a microwave, apparently set to start on a timer, sparked the blast.


Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com

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