SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- John Shirley said his ex-wife had become more demanding of money and less willing to let him see his daughter after she met Mark Ray Leonard.
Shirley testified Thursday at the murder trial of Leonard, the now former boyfriend of his ex-wife Monserrate Shirley – and the man accused of masterminding the explosion that killed two people in the Richmond Hill neighborhood in 2012.
Prosecutors asked Shirley how he found out about the explosion. At the time, he said, he was working a night shift job as a way to offset expensive child support payments.
"I was working three jobs to pay my child support: a full-time job and two part-time jobs," Shirley said. "I was working the night of the explosion. Communication from my daughter was kind of nil. That was something my ex saw to. That night, I got a text from my daughter saying, 'Dad, did you hear?'"
Shirley said customers began coming into his work talking about the explosion on the south side. It wasn't until the next day, he said, that he received a text from a concerned friend.
"I got a text from a friend asking if my ex-wife and daughter were OK," Shirley said. "I said, 'Why?' She said because that looks like their neighborhood. I immediately called my ex-wife and said what happened? She said, crying, that it was our house. It exploded."
After making sure his daughter and ex-wife were OK, Shirley said he asked about the condition of another important family member: Brook's cat Snowball.
"I asked [Monserrate] what happened to Snowball, assuming he was dead," Shirley said. "He was the white Persian cat that belonged to my daughter. It was a birthday present for Brook that my ex had given her. Knowing that the cat meant a lot to Brook, I asked what happened to that cat. She said, well, I had him staying someplace. I thought that was odd."
Shirley told jurors he was married to Monserrate from 1993-2011, at which point they divorced under unpleasant circumstances.
In either late 2003 or early 2004, he said, they moved with their daughter Brook into a home they'd had built at 8349 Fieldfare Way, in the Richmond Hill subdivision.
Jurors were shown pictures of John and Monserrate Shirley's living room. Prosecutors focused their questions on two particular parts of the living room: the fireplace and a painting hanging above it
Shirley said the painting was made for his family from a picture. He described it as a "prized possession" of his daughter Brook, and something with a lot of sentimental value to his ex-wife Monserrate. And, he said, it had a fair amount of monetary value as well.
"We spent a lot of money on it," Shirley said.
Shirley testified that when he and his ex-wife moved into the home, there were three gas appliances: the furnace, the water heater and a log lighter in the fireplace. He had at one point taken the log lighter out, he said, but had eventually reinstalled it.
After the explosion, Shirley said ATF agents asked him about the gas system in his former house and if he could draw a picture of it. Jurors were shown a photograph of that picture – which included a regulator on the manifold.
Jurors were also shown a photograph of sets of golf clubs from after the explosion. They appeared undamaged. Shirley said they were his, but he had last seen them in a closet in he and Monserrate's home in 2011.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Diane Black probed Shirley about his relationship with his ex-wife.
"Your relationship was acrimonious after the divorce," Black said. "Ms. Shirley was making it very difficult for you to see Brook, and yet was still demanding child support. And Brook was attending a private school, and you were paying tuition for that. And eventually, Ms. Shirley went back to court to have your wages garnished."
Shirley said all of that was true.
"There was an amount in the divorce that she didn't have to have me pay, and we'd had a verbal agreement about that," he said. "I think shortly after meeting Mark, they decided to move in that direction."
Black then asked Shirley about Monserrate's career changes during their relationship.
"[Monserrate] was an LPN when we first met, and I helped to support us while she completed her RN," Shirley said. "That is the only thing she knows – is being a nurse. She knows that better than anything else she knows."
Black described Monserrate as an accomplished nurse, one who even "saved some lives in the ICU."
"Yes, she did," Shirley said.
At that, Shirley was excused as a witness.
RTV6 will be in the courtroom throughout the trial. Court rules do not allow live coverage of the proceedings, but we will post a daily blog wrap up when breaks are allowed from proceedings.