INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – An Indianapolis man charged with plotting an explosion that killed two people and destroyed more than 30 homes in Indianapolis on Wednesday asked a judge to halt the case until the Indiana Court of Appeals can rule on a key issue.
Mark Leonard’s request to be tried separately from his girlfriend and his older brother was another issue that came up during a court hearing Wednesday in a Marion County court.
Leonard is the second defendant to ask for a separate trial. Monserrate Shirley, whose home was destroyed by a gas blast on Nov. 10, also has asked to be tried individually.
Deana Martin, Leonard’s public defender, says in court documents that prosecutors didn’t properly file the charges against him and he therefore can’t be sentenced to life without parole, as prosecutors have requested, if he’s convicted of murder and arson. Prosecutors allege Shirley, Mark Leonard, and his brother Bob Leonard plotted the explosion to collect insurance on Shirley’s home.
Leonard says Marion County Judge Sheila Carlisle erred by allowing prosecutors to change the original charges of felony murder, a lesser charge, to “knowing” murder. The document says those later charges “are not supported by the facts.”
The motion says he wasn’t present when the house exploded and there is no evidence to show that he or the others were aware the blast would kill anyone. The document also says defendants shouldn’t face the most severe penalties “simply based on a great deal of media coverage or community anger.”
The fiery blast killed Shirley’s next-door neighbors, John Dion Longworth, 34, and his wife, Jennifer Longworth, 36. The two homes were leveled and 33 were damaged so severely they had to be demolished.
The decision whether to relay the case directly to the Court of Appeals is up to Carlisle, said Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson.
In his motion for separate trial, Mark Leonard argues that he would be denied his constitutional right to cross-examine his co-defendants if statements that they made incriminating him are admitted as evidence at the trial, which isn’t expected to be held before next summer.
“There will be antagonistic defenses,” Martin wrote in the motion filed Wednesday.
The three defendants appeared in quick successive proceedings Wednesday. All three wore shackles and orange jail jumpsuits.
Abby Jackson, a friend of Shirley’s whose home was also destroyed in the explosion, told reporters after the hearing that she never saw any sign that Mark Leonard was controlling Shirley as Shirley claimed in court documents, but she added that she did not think Shirley would have admitted she was being abused.
“She told me Mark was taking care of her,” Jackson said. “She never admitted any of that,” she added.
Jackson said she had been close to Shirley for nine years.
“I also know a neighborhood was turned upside down and there people who are gone, and I pray for mercy,” Jackson said.
Attorneys for the three defendants didn’t return phone calls from The Associated Press seeking additional comment Wednesday.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 4.
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