Judge may sequester house blast jury during their deliberations; trial may last up to 6 weeks



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INDIANAPOLIS — The judge who will preside over a man's double-murder trial in a deadly Indianapolis house explosion said Wednesday he may sequester jurors once they begin deliberating after a trial that could last up to six weeks.

St. Joseph Superior Court Judge John Marnocha said he's "toying" with the idea of sequestering the jury during their deliberations in the trial of 46-year-old Mark Leonard.

Jury selection is set to begin June 4. Wednesday's pretrial hearing was held in Indianapolis, but the trial will be held in South Bend, about 130 miles away, because of pretrial publicity.

Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson said she understands the judge's concerns about whether to sequester jurors to protect the case from a possible mistrial as they weigh Leonard's fate. The trial is expected to involve more than 2,000 pieces of evidence.

"We certainly don't want to get all the way to that point and then have some juror decide to get on the Internet and research the issue or decide to talk to somebody," she said after the hearing.

Leonard faces two counts of murder and dozens of other counts in the November 2012 natural gas blast that leveled the home of his then-girlfriend, Monserrate Shirley. That explosion killed a couple who lived next door, injured 13 people and damaged or destroyed dozens of homes.

Leonard; his brother, Bob Leonard Jr., 56; Shirley; and two other people are charged in connection with explosion, which prosecutors contend was a scheme to collect $300,000 in insurance.

Prosecutors have described Mark Leonard as the mastermind of the explosion, which occurred when Shirley's home filled up with gas after a fireplace valve and a gas line regulator were removed.

In January, Shirley, 49, reached a deal under which she agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit arson and testify against the Leonard brothers and anyone else charged in the case.

Mark Leonard is also charged with conspiracy to commit murder for allegedly trying to arrange to have a witness killed after he was arrested in the house explosion. He faces a separate trial for that charge, but Marnocha has said prosecutors can use evidence supporting that case during his trial in the house explosion.

Public defender Dave Shircliff said Wednesday that those allegations are "so prejudicial" that jurors would almost certainly convict Leonard. Marnocha previously ruled prosecutors can use the evidence if they lay a proper foundation for presenting it to jurors.

Robinson told the judge Wednesday she expects to present that evidence just after the trial's midpoint.

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