FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The trial for a man facing dozens of charges in relation to a fatal Indianapolis house explosion started Tuesday at the Allen County Courthouse. Bob Leonard’s trial got moved from Indianapolis to Fort Wayne because of all the exposure and publicity.
Back in 2012, two people were killed and nearly 80 homes were damaged or destroyed after an explosion in the Richmond Hills neighborhood. Prosecutors said Leonard, his half brother Mark, and three others filled Mark’s girlfriend’s house with natural gas and ignited it with a microwave and gas fireplace. It was a flawed attempt to collect $300,000 dollars in insurance money.
Last summer, a jury found Mark Leonard guilty on 53 counts. He’s now serving two life sentences without parole, plus an additional 75 years. Mark’s girlfriend, Monserrate Shirley, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges last year. She’s expected to testify against Bob in this trial. The two other men charged in the case are Gary Thompson and Glenn Hults. Thompson is facing 49 charges, including murder and arson. Hults is only facing one charge. Both men are expected to go on trial in June.
Besides the venue change, the case’s exposure also caused the court to summon 800 potential jurors.
“It’s easily ten times the size of the average jury pool we would call for a similar case,” Court Executive for Allen Superior Court John McGauley said.
The court has planned to bring in 100 potential jurors a day, 50 in the morning and 50 in the afternoon. Tuesday afternoon, McGauley said it’s unlikely the court will need to bring all 800 potential jurors in. It turns out his hunch was correct. After just one day of trial, the court had already selected the 12-person jury and the six alternates. Still, McGauley said preparing the incredibly large pool was necessary in a case with this much publicity.
“They went through questionnaires, answered specific questions about their exposure to the case, how much they know about it, whether they know anybody involved in it,” McGauley said.
That means the judge could have potentially had to read each charge and instructions 16 separate times. To avoid that, the court prerecorded a 27 minute video of Judge Fran Gull doing so.
“We’re talking about eight hours of talking that we’re trying to save her from by just putting these things on video for the jurors to watch,” McGauley said.
The selected jury and alternates will watch another prerecorded video from Judge Gull.
“The charges and the statutory elements that you have to prove in order to convict somebody of a crime. That one lasts over an hour,” McGauley said.
With more than 50 charges comes an enormous amount of information. There is a semi-truck that has more than 2,000 pieces of evidence. That truck has to be parked in a secure location in Allen County, and different pieces of evidence have to be transported every day of the trial. There is also 160 prosecution witnesses.
“If you think about it, there’s really nowhere around the Allen County Courthouse to park a semi, so add that to the logistical challenges of this trial,” McGauley said.
While Allen County will get fully reimbursed, it could potentially cough up a lot of money to cover the trial costs. Jurors get paid $40 a day for their time and compensated for mileage. There are also other costs that come up throughout the trial.
“It could easily run into a couple of hundred thousand dollars because we’re talking hotel rooms, meals, lots and lots of logistical costs just lots and lots of people, lots and lots of materials, office supplies, you name it. It’ll all go into that cost,” McGauley said.
Thanks to advances in technology, the Indianapolis media won’t have the same camp set up like that of previous trials, but the court is still accommodating them.
“We’ll be keeping security here after hours for a couple of hours every day just to make sure they can get the story back to Marion County that they need to do,” McGauley saud, “We wanted to know what they needed in order to be successful here, and we’ve implemented that into some of our plans.”
While hosting high-profile trials isn’t all that unheard of or uncommon for Allen County, McGauley said this case will definitely stack up against other significant trials in the county’s history.
“We’re talking quite a logistical feat,” McGauley said. “We’ve obviously had our share of high profile cases over the years. There have been some groundbreaking cases in fact here in Allen County that have gotten a lot of national attention, but this is certainly on par with everything we’ve done. This may not exceed some of those high-profile cases, but it’ll certainly come close. It’ll at least match the biggest things we’ve ever done.”
The trial will take the day off Wednesday. Opening arguments are scheduled to start Thursday morning at 8:30. The trial could last through the beginning of March.