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Prosecutor discusses decision not to pursue death penalty in Richmond Hill blast

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INDIANAPOLIS – Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry spoke with families of two people killed in the Richmond Hill blast on Nov. 10 before deciding his office would not seek the death penalty against three people accused in the alleged insurance scam.

“Clearly experience shows that juries are not ultimately likely to impose capital punishment, particularly in the time frame where the legislature has enacted life without parole as an alternative,” Curry said. “Juries are more likely to go that avenue.”

Curry’s decision means Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard and Bob Leonard face the prospect of life in prison without parole if they are convicted of setting the fatal blast.

Investigators charged that Shirley was under extreme financial pressure when boyfriend Mark Leonard and brother Bob Leonard engineered a natural gas explosion that leveled her home at 8349 Fieldfare Way, damaged dozens more and killed neighbors Jennifer and Dion Longworth.

“It would appear at the end of the day as we try this case that there will not be any suggestion that the defendants targeted any specific individuals for harm but on the other hand, we allege that they engaged in an intentional act that clearly should have had foreseeable tragic consequences,” said Curry. “So, balancing all those options, we felt that life without parole was the appropriate option.”

Neighbors are divided on the prosecutor’s decision, but the woman who lived next door to the Longworths agreed with Curry’s strategy.

“I think that they intended to blow up their home and get the insurance money and they didn’t anticipate the damage and the lives being lost in the process of their crime,” said Natasha Cole whose home was leveled after the blast. “I wasn’t really pushing for the death penalty. It’s not something that I wanted per se to happen. I would have been okay if they had decided to go that route, but I just wanted to see justice and some punishment for the crime that they took two precious lives.”

Making his first visit to the crime scene was Shirley’s attorney James Voyles, who brought his own investigators to take photographs of the Shirley property and lot where the Longworth home once stood.

“It’s a mess,” said Voyles, who refused to comment on Curry’s decision or whether his client would seek a plea agreement in exchange for a lighter sentence and a commitment to testify against the Leonard brothers.

All three defendants now face additional arson charges along with murder counts. Shirley has now been charged with insurance fraud. Shirley and Mark Leonard have been charged with conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.

Mark Leonard and friend David Gill have also been charged in an unrelated scheme to defraud an insurance company over the alleged theft of a motorcycle.

Gill was questioned in November about whether he knew anything about the explosion.

Curry said investigators are still trying to find a second man neighbors saw leaving Shirley’s house several hours before the blast.

“We believe that there was a second individual who was at the home in the white van the afternoon of the explosion,” Curry said.

Both sides will be back in court Thursday as Leonard and Shirley have filed motions to have their cases moved out of Marion County because of excessive pre-trial media coverage.

22 comments

    • Ricardo

      Always have to throw the race card on the table don't you?

      Look at the crime, there wasn't INTENT to kill and there wasn't INTENT to do as much damage as they did. It is much more difficult and costly to prosecute a capitol case so the state took the easy way and I tend to agree wth the decision. Let these three idiots sit in prison for the rest of their lives, in the end it's cheaper for the taxpayer and mre painful then the death penalty in my opinion

      • cjmo2662

        I have to agree, Ricardo, about the race card & about the dropping the death penalty; I may not like that the taxpayers will have to support these losers, but they cant prove intent to kill or intent do do as much damage. Some jurors are so against the death penalty they would rather find these losers not guilty than consider another alternative- like life without parole. I hope their buddies in the cellblock make them so miserable they wish for death! lol

  • Anita

    Great decision guys. Let's make sure they stay warm and have 3 meals a day. Hell maybe throw in a College education. What a punishment!!

    • guest

      Really? You're saying life in prison is a walk on the beach? Thats LIFE, no freedom, nothing. The death penalty is the easy way out. If convicted, they WILL DIE in prison. Thats worse in my opinion than getting the needle.

  • Sherie Brown

    Nah you don't want the death penalty just life so they can think of what they done and know they can't just get up and go any time they what to know !!

    • Ricardo

      Always have to throw the race card on the table don't you?

      Look at the crime, there wasn't INTENT to kill and there wasn't INTENT to do as much damage as they did. It is much more difficult and costly to prosecute a capitol case so the state took the easy way and I tend to agree wth the decision. Let these three idiots sit in prison for the rest of their lives, in the end it's cheaper for the taxpayer and mre painful then the death penalty in my opinion

    • jjj

      Back up your statements, otherwise it's just garbage comin' out your mouth.

      Name some capital cases in Indy that were black defendants. Curry didn't even go after it for the Cumberland robbery/murders and that was black on white kid killin'

  • Hawk

    It is difficult to get a conviction for the death penalty in Indiana. If you look at past cases. even the Hamilton Street murders case was difficult. If you look at how long the appeals process takes, the death penalty is almost as long as life in prison without parole. I also agree that in some cases, it is better to let them stew in prison for the 40-50 years it takes to die.

    • cjmo2662

      Several years ago my mom was on a death penalty jury, & she said it was the hardest thing she ever did; she took careful notes of everything because it's a lot different when you have to decide if somebody lives or dies. She never did say how she voted, & after she passed away, we got rid of the notes. Didn't even read them!

    • zuladiene

      Ok, wll she's Hispanic. What's the problem with that? Are you a racist? I think so. But you know what our prayers are better than your words. And you know what? My God is bigger that all the lossers that are trying to condemn this lady before the trial. My God in the name of Jesus is going to make this lady free and she is going to be out of jail before you know it. You know why? Because she is INNOCENT. You know how many innocent people appears in the Bible that went to jail and God freed them? (Joseph, Peter, Daniel… just to mention someones). God Bless you swetty.

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