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December 21, 2012

3 charged with murder in Indianapolis house explosion

INDIANAPOLIS — A homeowner, her boyfriend and the boyfriend’s brother were charged Friday with murder and arson in a massive explosion that killed two people, destroyed five homes and damaged dozens more in an Indianapolis neighborhood.

Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard and Bob Leonard were arrested Friday and charged with felony murder in the Nov. 10 blast, Marion County prosecutor Terry Curry said at a news conference.

All three also face felony arson and conspiracy charges and have been jailed without bond, Curry said.

Investigators determined that Shirley’s home — at the epicenter of the devastating blast that killed her neighbors, John Dion Longworth, 34, and his 36-year-old wife Jennifer Longworth — filled up with gas after a gas fireplace valve and a gas line regulator were removed, Curry said. A microwave, probably set to start on a timer, sparked the explosion and flattened much of the Richmond Hills subdivision in the far south of the city, he said.

Curry called the explosion a “thoroughly senseless act.” He said his office would review whether to pursue the death penalty or life in prison without parole against the three.

Randall Cable, the attorney for Shirley and Mark Leonard, said he was stunned by their arrest.

“I’m just as surprised as everyone else that they’ve made an arrest. My clients have consistently indicated their innocence,” he said.

Investigators found that Shirley and Mark Leonard had tried but failed to blow up the home a week earlier, and that Leonard had told an acquaintance the house and Shirley’s jewelry were insured for $300,000, Curry said.

A man fitting Bob Leonard’s description was seen at Shirley’s home on the day of the explosion, and investigators believe this is when the gas line and valve were tampered with.

Cable has said the couple was at a southern Indiana casino when the explosion happened. Shirley’s daughter was staying with a friend, and the family’s cat was being boarded.

Curry said Bob and Mark Leonard told investigators they had last seen each other four days before the explosion, but investigators found surveillance video from two businesses showing them together on the two days before the blast.

The day before the blast, Curry said, the brothers allegedly spoke with an employee of local gas utility Citizens Energy.

They “asked that person various questions regarding gas, including the differences between propane and natural gas, the role of a regulator in a house and controlling the flow of natural gas and how much gas it would require to fill a house,” he said.

On the day after the explosion, Bob Leonard allegedly called his son and asked him to retrieve a bag and six or seven boxes from a white van outside his mobile home that he said were filled with items he had salvaged from Shirley’s home after the blast.

“That, of course, is impossible because everything in the house was destroyed. Plus no one was allowed access to the property after the explosion,” Curry said.

The late-night blast, which was heard from miles away, destroyed five houses including the Longworths’ home, damaged about 90 more and sent residents fleeing, some in their pajamas.

Officials ordered the demolition of about three dozen of the mostly heavily damaged homes and say the blast caused an estimated $4.4 million in damage.

Shirley has said Leonard had replaced the thermostat and that the furnace was working. Cable has said the daughter told her mother she had smelled an odd odor in recent weeks, but that they hadn’t reported it.

John Longworth was an electronics expert and his wife was a second-grade teacher.

 

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