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'Test jury' assessed in Indianapolis home explosion case; 1 suspect seeking change of venue

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INDIANAPOLIS — Prosecutors and attorneys for one of the suspects in a deadly Indianapolis house explosion began assessing Monday whether they can assemble an impartial jury successfully in the city where it happened.

Marion County Superior Court Judge Sheila Carlisle spent the morning working with the defense team and prosecutors, screening a "test jury" of 125 residents to determine if they could find enough to seat a jury. Lawyers for Mark Leonard, one of three suspects in the explosion, have asked that the trial to be moved.

By the end of Monday's hearing, the lawyers and Carlisle and decided to strike 25 potential jurors from the list of 125 for the test jury. The parties are set to spend the rest of the week questioning "test" jurors before Carlisle decides whether the trial should be moved.

Leonard, ex-girlfriend Monserrate Shirley and brother Bob Leonard face murder, arson and conspiracy to commit arson charges in the November 2012 blast that killed two of Shirley's neighbors and wrecked dozens of houses on the city's south side.

Prosecutors allege the trio set the blast in Shirley's home as part of a scheme to collect $300,000 from insurance.

Deana Martin and Diane Black, public defenders appointed to represent Mark Leonard, introduced stories from Indianapolis television stations and The Indianapolis Star as evidence of the media saturation they say would make it hard to assemble an impartial jury.

Carlisle said she would need some time to read through the evidence.

After the hearing, lead prosecutor Denise Robinson declined to say whether she thought the trial would be moved. Monday's hearing is but one step in what could be a very long process: Each suspect is being tried separately.

Former Indianapolis police officer David Bisard had his trial moved to Fort Wayne after extensive pre-trial news coverage. Bisard was sentenced to 13 years in prison last fall after a jury determined he had been driving under the influence when he killed Eric Wells and severely injured two others.

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