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Defense calls 1 witness in Indianapolis home explosion trial

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — More than 160 witnesses testified for the prosecution in the monthlong trial of a man accused of planning a home explosion that gutted an Indianapolis subdivision in 2012, killing two neighbors.

Attorneys for Mark Leonard called just one witness Thursday who testified for a half hour. They then played a nine-minute video of a television interview Leonard’s former live-in girlfriend, Monserrate Shirley, gave following the explosion before resting their case.

The jury is scheduled to hear closing arguments on Monday and receive instructions from St. Joseph Superior Court Judge John Marnocha before beginning deliberations on Tuesday.

Marnocha told lawyers he would instruct jurors that on the two counts of murder in the deaths of John “Dion” Longworth and his wife, Jennifer, they could find Leonard guilty of the lesser offense of reckless homicide. Leonard also faces two counts of felony murder, which means a homicide occurs during the commission of a felony. There is no lesser charge on those counts. Leonard also faces arson, conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud charges.

Prosecutors say Leonard plotted with Shirley and his half brother, Bob Leonard, to blow up the home to collect $300,000 in insurance money.

As it has for much of the trial, defense attorneys tried Thursday to portray Shirley as a person who cannot be trusted. Shirley has pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges as part of a plea agreement and testified against Leonard last week.

Defense attorney Diane Black said Leonard didn’t have a plea deal “because of pitchforks and torches,” a comment about public sentiment in the case that drew an objection from Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson. The trial was moved 140 miles from Indianapolis to South Bend because of extensive media coverage in central Indiana.

The lone witness Leonard’s attorneys called was Indianapolis police Detective Aaron Carter, who interviewed Shirley on Nov. 12, two days after the explosion. Carter said Shirley told him she knew nothing about the explosion.

“She said she had nothing to hide and she was telling the truth,” Carter said.

Carter said he also asked Shirley what she thought should happen to whoever was behind the explosion, saying it was a question he asks to see how people respond. He said people involved in a crime frequently will minimize what should be done to those caught.

“She responded they should be punished and they should be jailed,” Carter said.

“For life?” defense attorney David Shircliff asked.

“Yes, for life,” Carter said.

Carter said Shirley had the demeanor he would expect from someone who was involved in such a tragedy, laughing at times and crying at others. He said the one thing that made him suspicious was when she said she boarded the cat when they were going to be away for the weekend, saying he didn’t think most people boarded cats when going away for a weekend.

The video of the television interview jurors viewed showed Shirley talking about the explosion and describing being at a casino bar when she received a telephone call from a neighbor, Gina Salas. Shirley sounded as though she were crying as she spoke, but shed no tears.

“Oh my gosh, I started screaming,” she said. “I went and got Mark. I said, ‘We’ve got to go! We’ve got to go!’ He thought someone did something to me in the bathroom or something because he didn’t know when I walked away and took the phone call. I said, ‘The whole neighborhood blew up! My house blew up!'”

Leonard’s attorney declined comment on Thursday. Robinson said she wasn’t surprised defense attorneys called only one witness.

“We had covered everything pretty thoroughly in our case so that didn’t surprise me,” she said.

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