Opening statements over in Indianapolis house explosion trial

File: Scales of Justice

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Opening statements wrapped up around 11:30 Thursday morning in a much-anticipated, high-profile trial that’s been more than three years in the making. Bob Leonard faces more than 50 charges for his role in an Indianapolis house explosion that killed two people and damaged nearly 80 homes.

Case Background

The explosion happened around 11:00 p.m. on November 10, 2012. Prosecutors said Leonard and four others are responsible, including his half-brother, Mark Leonard. According to the prosecutors, the group plotted to blow up Mark Leonard’s girlfriend’s house to collect $300,000 in insurance money.

Bob Leonard’s trial is the second one in relation to the case. A jury found Mark Leonard guilty last summer. He’s currently serving two life sentences without parole, plus an additional 75 years. Three other people are connected to the case. Two men face charges, and are awaiting trial. Mark Leonard’s girlfriend, Monserrate Shirley, pleaded guilty and is expected to testify against Bob Leonard.

The case got moved to Allen County because it got so much publicity in central Indiana. The court initially summoned 800 potential jurors to deal with that exposure, but it got a jury selected after just one day. Ten women and eight men make up the jury and alternate panel, and they’re in for what will certainly be a lengthy trial. It’s slated to last 34 days. There’s a semi-truck full of more than 2000 pieces of evidence that will come in and out every day. The prosecution is also expected to call around 160 witnesses.

Jury Instructions & Opening Statements

Opening statements started around 10:30. Thursday morning. Each side took took around a half hour to present its case. Before that, it took Judge Fran Gull, who is presiding over the case, more than an hour to just get through reading the 52 charges and instructions for the jury. Due to the much longer than normal length of this procedure, the court prerecorded a video of Judge Gull reading everything.

Prosecution Opening Statement

The prosecution started, detailing how some of the first responders couldn’t even tell there was a house where the explosion started because of the destruction. The husband and wife who lived next door, John “Dion” and Jennifer Longworth were killed. 30 other homes had to be demolished in the neighborhood, with damage to around 50 others. The prosecution said many of the 911 calls came from people thinking there was a plane crash because the blast was so significant.

The prosecution broke down the trial into four parts for the jury, telling them they will hear from the residents of the Richmond Hill neighborhood, experts from Citizens Energy- the gas company for Indianapolis, fire investigators, and police investigators. Citizens Energy is necessary to rule out the possibility of the explosion being an accident.

The prosecution said it knows Leonard didn’t intend to murder Jennifer and John “Dion” Longworth, but that it’s here to prove he knowingly did because of his actions. While the prosecution maintains Mark Leonard is the main ringleader behind this case, it reminded the jury of the following state code:

“In the state of Indiana, the person who aides in the commission of an offense aides in that defense.”

With 150 plus witnesses expected to testify, the prosecution acknowledged it will be difficult and lengthy for the jury, giving them this analogy to help understand why that many witnesses are necessary:

“Think about this case as a wall that’s comprised of brick upon brick upon brick. When you think of that wall, these are all of the bricks to that wall. The motive is like the mortar to hold the wall together.”

Defense Opening Statement

The defense followed, noting how Thursday’s opening statements are a “preview of coming attractions.” The defense acknowledged what a horrific scene the Richmond Hills neighborhood was after the explosion, saying:

“To characterize it as a war zone probably doesn’t do it justice.”

While the prosecution said it understands how emotional and difficult the case will get, it urged the jury to listen to the facts of the case.

“There is no doubt of one thing and that is this- you will see things and hear things first-hand you never thought you would in your life. Your verdict can’t be based off emotion, and there will be a lot of it. As emotional and difficult as this evidence will be to hear, we ask you to keep your minds open and critically judge the evidence. Bob Leonard is not responsible.”

Marion County Prosecutor on Opening Statements

Even though this trial will include many of the same witnesses and evidence as Mark Leonard’s did, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said that doesn’t make this case any easier to win.

“There’s a different role and different circumstances. So, the evidence will just have to play out. There’s absolutely no slam dunk in putting together a trial of six weeks, 150 witnesses, thousands of exhibits,” Curry said.

Curry said this trial is still unique and brings its own challenges.

“Certainly, in any circumstance where defense counsel has the opportunity to see a road map, that’s probably helpful to them. In this case, it’s a different role, different circumstances. There is some evidence that was presented in South Bend that won’t be presented here. Likewise, there will be some evidence that was not heard in the South Bend trial,” Curry said.

As for the jury, Curry said he’s very impressed with their dedication to the case so far.

“It certainly struck me how attentive they were immediately. When you go through an hours worth of instructions, I think it would be pretty easy for individuals to get bored, but they were very attentive in instructions and certainly in the opening statements,” Curry said.

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