3 in home blast plead not guilty

Sus­pects charged with mur­der, ar­son, held with­out bail.

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By Charles Wil­son Matt Kryger / Indianapolis star

INDIANAPOLIS — Res­i­dents whose Indianapolis homes were bat­tered by a gas ex­plo­sion and rel­a­tives of a cou­ple who were killed packed a court hear­ing Mon­day for the three sus­pects charged with rig­ging the blast.

The crowd watched in grim si­lence as a Mar­ion County judge en­tered not guilty pleas for Mon­ser­rate Shirley; her boyfriend, Mark Leonard; and his brother, Bob Leonard. They are charged with mur­der, ar­son and other counts in the Nov. 10 blast.

The three, who ap­peared in court in or­ange jail jump­suits and hand­cuffs, were or­dered held with­out bail. Pros­e­cu­tors say Shirley and the Leonard brothers de­lib­er­ately blew up her home so they could col­lect the in­surance pay­out.

The fiery blast de­stroyed five homes, in­clud­ing Shirley’s, and dam­aged dozens of oth­ers in the Rich­mond Hill sub­di­vi­sion in the far south side of the city. The ex­plo­sion killed Shirley’s next-door neigh­bors, John Dion Long­worth, a 34-year-old elec­tron­ics ex­pert, and his 36-yearold wife, sec­ond-grade teacher Jen­nifer Long­worth. Shirley and Mark Leonard told in­ves­ti­ga­tors they were at a south­ern In­di­ana casino at the time of the blast.

John Dion Long­worth’s aunt, Pam Mosser, a psy­chi­atric nurse who at­tended the hear­ing on the back of a 16-hour shift, said it is im­por­tant for peo­ple to know how her fam­ily suf­fered while the sus­pects ap­par­ently gave no thought for their neigh­bors’ lives.

“Dion 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 told re­porters af­ter the hear­ing.

“I can­not for­give that,” she said.

Shirley, 47, was fac­ing mount­ing fi­nan­cial woes, in­clud­ing $63,000 in credit card debt and bank­ruptcy pro­ceed­ings, court doc­u­ments say. And a friend of Mark Leonard’s told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that Leonard said he had lost about $10,000 at a casino about three weeks be­fore the ex­plo­sion. The home’s orig­i­nal loan was for $116,000 and a sec­ond mort­gage was taken out on the home for $65,000, the af­fi­davit says.

Mark Leonard told the judge he couldn’t pay for an at­tor­ney be­cause all his cash was in­side Shirley’s house when it blew up, leav­ing him with about $500 in a check­ing ac­count.

“All my money, all of it, it’s gone,” he said. “I had money in the house and it’s not there any­more.”

The judge ap­pointed pub­lic de­fend­ers for the Leonards. Those at­tor­neys did not re­turn phone calls seek­ing com­ment.

Ran­dall Ca­ble, Shirley’s at­tor­ney, de­clined to com­ment when reached by phone af­ter the hear­ing.

Shirley and the Leonard brothers face two counts of mur­der as well as 33 counts of ar­son — one count for each of the homes dam­aged so badly that of­fi­cials have or­dered their de­mo­li­tion.

Shirley and Mark Leonard, 43, also face two counts of con­spir­acy to com­mit ar­son, while Bob Leonard, 54, faces a sin­gle count. The con­spir­acy charges stem from a failed ex­plo­sion that pros­e­cu­tors claim the trio had at­tempted the week­end be­fore the suc­cess­ful timed blast.

Pros­e­cu­tor Terry Curry has said he will con­sider seek­ing the death penalty. A trial for all three sus- pects was sched­uled for March 4.

“I think they should die a hor­ri­ble death,” Mosser said. “And it’s ter­ri­ble to have th­ese feel­ings.”

In­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve the sus­pects re­moved a gas fire­place valve and a gas line reg­u­la­tor in Shirley’s house that sub­se­quently filled up with gas. They have said a mi­cro- wave, ap­par­ently set to start on a timer, sparked the ex­plo­sion.

Re­porters were po­si­tioned in the jury box so that the small court­room could ac­com­mo­date the 30 or so mem­bers of the pub­lic who squeezed in to ob­serve the ini­tial hear­ing.

Rich­mond Hills res­i­dent Barry Chip­man said neigh­bors re­mained fear­ful of loud noises more than a month af­ter the blast. He said he was driv­ing with his teenage daugh­ter re­cently when he popped the gum he was chew­ing and it “made her jump.” A few min­utes later, he said, she did the same, star­tling him.

“Ev­ery­body’s still jumpy,” he said.

NOV. 12:

Pros­e­cu­tors say three peo­ple de­lib­er­ately blew up this Indianapolis home to col­lect the in­surance pay­out. Two peo­ple died in the blast.

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