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Judge rejects defense mistrial motion in deadly Indianapolis house explosion trial

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SOUTH BEND, Indiana — An Indiana judge rejected a defense motion Monday for a mistrial over alleged prosecutorial misconduct in the case of a man accused of using natural gas to cause a house explosion that killed two people and gutted a neighborhood.

David Shircliff, an attorney for defendant Mark Leonard, argued before testimony began Monday that Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson had misrepresented a video to jurors last week when she described it as a training video made by Citizens Energy.

Robinson said the video was made by the prosecution at a Citizens Energy training demonstration but the presentation wasn't created for the trial.

Shircliff also asked St. Joseph County Superior Court Judge John Marnocha to at least admonish the jury to not consider that video and a second one from Citizens Energy because defense attorneys hadn't been provided with the material before they were shown.

"The state has a duty to discover to us," he said.

Marnocha rejected the motion for a mistrial, saying the videos were simply demonstrations and didn't say anything about Leonard's guilt or innocence. He also said there doesn't appear to be any argument that the house exploded and that natural gas was the cause.

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 to collect $300,000 in insurance. Two others also face charges. Leonard is charged with murder in the deaths of a married couple who lived next door, arson, conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.

The only person to testify Monday was former Marion County crime scene specialist Lisa Liebig, who now works in California. She described various pieces of evidence she collected in the days following the explosion, but said it was just a small portion of what was amassed.

She said the evidence, which includes furnaces, water heaters and refrigerators, is being held in two storage pods.

Shircliff objected when Liebig described one of the pieces as a microwave, questioning whether she was qualified to say what it was.

Marnocha never ruled, but after a break prosecutors laid out pieces of the appliance on a tarp for the jury to see. Prosecutors didn't say where the microwave came from, but have alleged a microwave was used to detonate the explosion.

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