Senior staff writer
Monserrate Shirley, the prosecution’s main witness, testified on July 1 that she tried to prevent ex-boyfriend Mark Leonard from continuing with a plan to destroy her home for insurance money if he would accept the funds in her 401k.
Shirley was on the witness stand for six hours in the trial of Mark Leonard, the alleged mastermind of the plot, in front of St. Joseph Superior Court Judge John Marchona in South Bend. Leonard faces 53 felony charges, including murder, arson and conspiracy to commit arson and insurance fraud.
During her testimony, Shirley confirmed a timetable that included failed attempts Oct. 27 for a small fire and Nov. 3 for a spark to set off a blaze at a natural gas fireplace inside her home at 8349 Fieldfare Way. Shirley testified that she made the offer to Leonard and that her 401k had $10,000 to $12,000 in it. He told her that wasn’t enough money and that he wanted $300,000.
“It wasn’t enough,” stated Shirley, who then was a nurse at Roudebush Veterans Affair Medical Center and previously a nurse at St. Francis and Community South hospitals. She gave more details about Leonard and alleged accomplices Gary Thompson and Glenn Hultz.
The home was destroyed in a massive explosion around 11 p.m. Nov. 10, 2012. Adjacent neighbors Jennifer and John Dion Longworth died from injuries from the blast that destroyed or damaged 80 homes in the Southside subdivision.
Shirley told Leonard after the blast that she didn’t want any part of the incident and wanted out. She testified that Leonard told her, “Too bad, you’re in it.” She added, “No one deserved what happened.”
Leonard first discussed her home insurance in December 2011 and later told her it was under-insured. She also testified that the first mention of damaging the home by setting it on fire took place Feb. 12, 2012, and later July 4 at a pool party near Geist Reservoir. Then Leonard introduced Hultz, who told her how his home was destroyed to collect insurance money.
Under cross examination on the 14th day of the trial last week, Shirley admitted that Leonard had control of everything. Leonard’s public attorneys raised Shirley’s plea bargain to jurors and re-emphasized that Shirley’s life itself depends upon whether the state and the jury finds her testimony credible.
Diane Black is the lead public attorney defending Leonard. Leonard’s trial in is in the middle of the fourth week of testimony being presented under lead prosecuting attorney Denise Robinson, supervisor of the Marion County Prosecutor’s Special Crimes Unit. She told reporters outside the courthouse earlier this week that she hopes to have presented all the pieces of the puzzle to jurors before the end of the week.
The week began with testimony from three more witnesses, including Mark Duckworth, whom Leonard allegedly hired a hit man to have him killed.Shirley, Leonard, Leonard’s halfbrother Robert Leonard, Thompson and Hultz have been charged with crimes associated with the blast. Robert Leonard’s trial is scheduled for January in Fort Wayne.