Defendant in deadly Indiana explosion agrees to plea deal

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One of three people charged in a deadly Indianapolis house explosion has reached a plea agreement, prosecutors said Friday — something an outside defense attorney said could mean a stronger case against the other two.

Monserrate Shirley, the woman whose house exploded, killing a couple that lived next door and damaging more than 80 other homes in a south side subdivision, has agreed to a plea deal, Marion County Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman Peg McLeish said. Details will not be released before a change-of-plea hearing Tuesday, she said.

Shirley's attorney, Jim Voyles, declined to comment. Shirley had pleaded not guilty to murder and arson charges in the November 2012 blast. Her then-boyfriend, Mark Leonard, and his brother, Bob Leonard, face the same charges. Prosecutors allege the trio rigged the explosion in a scheme to collect $300,000 in insurance.

It's not clear if the deal calls for Shirley to testify against her co-defendants, as is sometimes the case with plea agreements in cases involving multiple defendants.

Indianapolis defense attorney Bob Hammerle, who's not involved in the case, told The Indianapolis Star that anytime one of multiple defendants reaches a plea agreement, the state's case becomes stronger and the other defendants are faced with a challenge.

"You go from something where you believe you have a defensible chance, and you wake up and you found out you're dangling at the edge of a cliff," said Hammerle, a defense attorney for 40 years.

Deana Martin, the public defender for Mark Leonard, said she could not comment on the deal because the terms have not been disclosed.

"The only information I have is that despite more than two years of proclaiming they had a strong case against all defendants, the state has done an about-face and offered Ms. Shirley some type of plea offer," Martin said in an email to the Star.

Bob Leonard's attorney, Ted Minch, chose not to comment because he had not seen the terms of the deal.

Prosecutors had requested life sentences without parole for all three defendants. A judge has not ruled on those requests.

A judge in northern Indiana's St. Joseph County has scheduled Mark Leonard's trial to begin June 4. The case was moved there because of extensive publicity in central Indiana. It's unclear when Bob Leonard will be tried.

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