Monday marks deadline for victims of Richmond Hill blast to weigh in on Mark Leonard’s sentencing

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Mark Leonard, left, returns from the City-County Building to jail after entering a not guilty plea on Dec. 24, 2012, in the arraignment for the fatal Richmond Hill blast. Kelly Wilkinson/The Star

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (Aug. 8, 2015)– Today is the deadline for victims of the 2012 Richmond Hill explosion to write letters to the court and explain how the blast affected their lives and what type of sentence convicted killer Mark Leonard should receive.

St. Joseph Superior Judge John Marnocha has already started considering the evidence that could send Leonard to prison with no hope of parole.

In paperwork filed just this morning, Judge Marnocha found that aggravators presented by the prosecution outweigh non-existent mitigating circumstances that were not raised by the defense during an evidentiary hearing last month.

Leonard faces life without parole after his conviction for plotting the blast that destroyed or damaged more than 80 homes, leading to $4.4 million in losses and the deaths of two neighbors, Jennifer and Dion Longworth.

But since the pre-sentence report by the St. Joseph County Adult Probation Department has not yet been completed, “the Court delays until sentencing it’s final decision as to whether the defendant shall be sentenced to a term of years with respect to Counts 52 and 53 or whether Life Without Parole shall be imposed and is an appropriate sentence in this case.”

Those counts refer to the murders of the Longworths.

Judge Marnocha wrote that, “The court…finds the defendant was a major participant in the killing(s),” calling Leonard the “prime mover” in the case.

The judge found that filling the home of Monserrate Shirley with natural gas and conceiving of a process to spark off the blast constituted an “explosive device” and that arson was the prime cause of the Longworths’ deaths and that Dion was burned alive.

Leonard will arrive in Judge Marnocha’s courtroom Friday to be confronted by victims who have been urged to keep their letters professional and non-personal.

Meanwhile, the court has signed off an invoice to Marion County to cover costs of the seven week long trial.

Sources told FOX59 News overtime costs for St. Joseph County deputies to secure the courtroom were in excess of $30,000, with jail, court and office expenses yet to be totaled.

By contrast, the four week long David Bisard trial in Fort Wayne in the fall of 2013 cost Marion County approximately $70,000.