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.