Deputy prosecutor putting down roots here

Every now and then, Mark Hollingsworth will take a moment to look out of the window of his office at the Jackson County Judicial Center in Brownstown.

The deputy prosecutor, who has spent the majority of his career in Marion County, often observes the county’s landscape and sometimes even a bald eagle.

“Indianapolis has an impressive skyline, but I can’t beat looking out my office and seeing the rolling hills of southern Indiana,” he said. “I see an eagle that soars through here, and you can’t get that in a big city like Indianapolis.”

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As dramatic as the scene change may seem for the 53-year-old Bloomington native, the difference in casework is even more stark.

Hollingsworth boasts an impressive résumé that includes 27 years as a prosecutor with a focus on homicides and high-profile cases. He went to work in Lake County in 1992 straight out of law school at Indiana University in Indianapolis.

At that time, Lake County in far northwestern Indiana ranked the highest in per capita murders in the country. He has spent the last 21 years in the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and has tried more than 90 homicide trials.

But in July, Hollingsworth and his wife wanted to move closer to family and felt the timing was right. That’s when he began working in Jackson County Prosecutor Jeff Chalfant’s office. He has handled the county’s two pending homicide cases and child molesting, drug-related offense and burglary cases.

“I enjoy the mixture of cases, and I’m quite busy as my caseload quadrupled when I got here,” he said. “I really enjoy what I’m doing here.”

Hollingsworth also has filled a role in helping the county’s other prosecutors with their cases and advising them on trial practices.

“This office has a fantastic staff, and I couldn’t be more impressed,” he said. “I have the trial experience, so I like helping. Trials are an art, and it can always be improved.”

Hollingsworth has had plenty of opportunities to improve that craft, as he has tried more than 175 jury trials, including more than 90 that were homicides.

Most notably through his career, Hollingsworth tried the Richmond Hill explosion case, the longest trial in Marion County’s history. Many may remember that incident when a natural gas explosion was intentionally set in the Richmond Hill housing addition Nov. 10, 2012, to collect insurance money.

The explosion was set by a timer on a microwave in the home and killed two people. Seven more were injured, and more than 30 homes were damaged badly enough to be completely demolished.

Five people — Mark Leonard, Bob Leonard, Gary Thompson, Monserrate Shirley and Glenn Hults — received prison sentences after accepting plea agreements or being found guilty by juries. The Leonards were both convicted of murder and other charges.

Hollingsworth spent two years working that case, which included the testimony of 170 witnesses and more than 2,000 exhibits.

It took a semitrailer to haul exhibits to South Bend, where the trial had been moved after a change of venue was granted by the court.

“It was a huge group effort,” he said. “All of us were assigned to that case for two years.”

Hollingsworth got his start in trying homicide cases early on in his career. In fact, it was about a year after he started in Lake County when he was asked to help try a double homicide case.

At that time, almost every deputy prosecutor in the county had murder cases because there were so many.

“It was both terrifying to have that responsibility early on, but it was a chance to deal with some serious bad guys, and if I can get them, I will,” he said. “I’m glad I worked in Lake County because it was a phenomenal experience.”

In that case, three people were shot execution style at the Delaney housing complex.

As far as a square blocks go, it was one of the most dangerous places in the county, Hollingsworth said. It was so bad that then-Gov. Evan Bayh declared a state of emergency, he said.

“It was as deadly ground as you’ll ever see,” he said.

To be able to do that type of work, Hollingsworth said he had to try to block his emotions and simply do his job. He said he would only get emotional during a sentencing.

“There’s job satisfaction in getting justice, but it’s not a joyful moment because someone has died,” he said. “You realize that and know families have been affected.”

While Hollingsworth is from Monroe County, he has some ties to Jackson County.

His father is a retired Indiana State Police trooper and spent time here early in his career.

His father’s first assignment was at the Seymour Post, where he worked a year before being rotated to Lawrence and Monroe counties.

“My father patrolled these streets here,” he said. “By the time I was born, he was no longer in Jackson County, and we were in Bloomington.”

That’s why Hollingsworth enjoys southern Indiana because he considers it home.

Those weren’t his only ties to Jackson County. When he worked as a prosecutor in Lake County, he worked with now Jackson Superior Court I Judge AmyMarie Travis when she was a prosecutor there.

“It’s kind of neat to think about that connection,” he said.

Now that he has settled in to work in Jackson County, Hollingsworth said he feels he and Chalfant work well together and lean on each other for their strengths.

“Jeff and I are a good team on these cases because the things I have experience with, he doesn’t as much, and what I don’t have experience in, he does,” he said. “The two of us make our experience level go up.”

There are prosecutor offices where there are only an elected prosecutor and a deputy.

He said he feels the current office is well-staffed and they have a modern courtroom with the new Jackson County Judicial Center.

“Any prosecutor in Indianapolis would walk into that judicial center and courtroom and think this is where they should try a case,” he said. “That’s a modern courtroom, and the taxpayers should be really happy.”

Hollingsworth said he feels the judicial system in Jackson County and the prosecutor’s office are both strong and the public defender’s office also is experienced and skilled.

“There’s a lot of experience we’re going against over there,” he said. “If the system is going to work, I want to know the defendant got a fair trial and attorneys have challenged the evidence.”

While the scenery or work may change, what guides Hollingsworth as a prosecutor has remained the same.

“Our ethical obligation is to do justice,” he said, adding sometimes, that means prosecuting a defendant or even dismissing charges. “It’s not about winning. It’s about doing the right thing.”