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Attorney: Woman whose Indianapolis home exploded claims abuse, coercion, seeks case separation

Attorneys for an Indianapolis woman whose home exploded write in a new court filing that she was abused by her co-defendant boyfriend and powerless to stop the blast that killed two neighbors, a report Tuesday said.

Attorneys for Monserrate Shirley have filed court papers arguing she should be tried separately from boyfriend Mark Leonard and his brother, Bob Leonard, because she's a victim of his "manipulation, abuse and coerciveness," WTHR-TV reported (http://bit.ly/16NV3y7 ).

"The evidence will reveal a naive, controlled woman who blindly followed and trusted Mark Leonard and that he was so physically and emotionally abusive that she had zero power over her own fate," attorneys Jim Voyles and Jennifer Lukemeyer wrote in an 11-page filing.

It's evidence Mark Leonard would not want introduced in court, so the cases should be separated, they wrote.

Shirley and the Leonards each face charges of murder, arson and insurance fraud in connection with the Nov. 10 blast that caused about $4.5 million damage to dozens of homes in the Richmond Hill subdivision, including 33 that were so severely damaged they had to be torn down. A pretrial hearing in the case is set for Wednesday.

Shirley's attorneys said her long history of being abused began with her father, who they say "demonstrated his demand for obedience by taking the family dog to the backyard, hanging it, then shooting and telling the children this could be them if they disobeyed him." They say she was also in two abusive marriages.

"Given her lengthy history of being at the mercy of abusive men, it would explain why Shirley would not have the insight as to the plan Mark and Bob Leonard had constructed and why Shirley did exactly what she was told to do. It does not justify the actions, but rather explains her inability to register what type of evil plan was being hatched by her co-defendants," the attorneys wrote.

They characterized Mark Leonard as a man whose "actions and attitude bordered on sociopathic."

A message seeking comment was left with the Marion County Public Defender Agency, which represents Mark Leonard.

Investigators have said Shirley and the Leonards rigged a gas explosion in Shirley's home in hopes of collecting insurance money. Next-door neighbors John and Jennifer Longworth died after the explosion ignited another blast that resulted in a fire at their house.

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Information from: WTHR-TV, http://www.wthr.com/

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