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Owner arrested for home explosion that killed 2

12:44 PM, Dec 24, 2012   |    comments
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The three people at the center of the fatal Richmond Hill blast appeared in a Marion County courtroom Monday morning.

Wearing the standard-issue orange jumpsuits of the Marion County Jail, the three took turns appearing before Judge Sheila Carlisle in Marion Superior Court.

Monserrate Shirley, 47, her boyfriend, Mark Leonard, 43, and his half brother Robert "Bob" Leonard Jr., 54, are facing murder and several other felony charges in what authorities have called a senseless crime.

The judge entered a plea of not guilty for the three.

In requesting a public defender, Mark Leonard told the judge he made about $100,000 a year in restoration and property management but he did not have any money now. He said all his assets, including an unspecified amount of cash, were destroyed in the explosion.

"I don't have anything, it all burned," he told Carlisle. "All my money is gone. Everything. I had money in the house and it's not there and it's all gone."

None of the three suspects showed excessive emotion at the hearing. Shirley, who appeared first, initially struggled to hold back tears but quickly regained her composure. She was the only one of the three to hire an attorney, and her hearing lasted a few minutes.

The two Leonard men requested court-appointed attorneys, and their hearings lasted slightly longer as the judge asked questions to gauge their ability to hire lawyers. She ultimately appointed attorneys for both men.

The hearings began at 10 a.m. All three were completed by 10:30 a.m.

Investigators said the three conspired to blow up Shirley's home to collect about $300,000 in insurance money, which Shirley and Mark Leonard needed after gambling away thousands of dollars and amassing sizable credit card debts.

Investigators said the Leonard brothers, who have a history of scamming people for money, hatched a plan to turn Shirley's house on Fieldfare Way on the city's Southeastside into a bomb. They said the two rigged the fireplace to pour out natural gas and set the microwave oven's timer to trigger the blast.

The explosion on the night of Nov. 10 destroyed several homes, damaged more than 80 and killed Jennifer Longworth, 36, and her husband, John "Dion" Longworth, 34, Shirley's next-door neighbors.

John Longworth's aunt, Pam Mosser, 50, attended the hearing and said afterward she hoped the defendants "die a horrible death."

"He (Longworth) burned and screamed until he died," said Mosser, a nurse who is married to Longworth's father. "I cannot forgive that. Both (John) and Jennifer died suffering and screaming. It is unbelievable to me that someone could be gambling and drinking while their house blows up and people are dying."

Mosser said her husband, also named John, has been having nightmares every night.

"It is hard to be a nurse and have these feelings of bitterness," she said. "You become a nurse to help people. But this is a stage of grief."

About 20 Richmond Hills residents helped pack the court hearing to capacity.

Among those who attended today's hearing as spectators was longtime Indianapolis attorney Jack Crawford.

"I'm here because this obviously will be one of the most sensational criminal cases in Indianapolis history," Crawford said. "And I think the public should not make a rush to judgment on the facts of this case."

Average citizens might judge prosecutors to have an easy task, Crawford said, because of publicity about the suspects' activities in the days leading up to the explosion and the seemingly convenient ways the suspects removed valuable possessions and a family pet before the devastating blast.

"A lot of people have these folks convicted already by the media accounts," Crawford said, "but this is a circumstantial-evidence case. There are no eyewitnesses who saw these folks do anything. There are no admissions or confessions by the defendants. And arson cases are difficult to prove."

Today's hearing, Crawford said, "is the first step in a long process. This case will go on for many, many months, and I think people should wait to reserve judgment and wait until they hear all the facts."

The Indy Star

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