Story Summary

South Side Disaster

house explosion overhead3An explosion on the city’s south side left two dead and dozens homeless on Nov. 10.  Jennifer and Dion Longworth were both killed inside their home on Fieldfare Way in the Richmond Hill subdivision after their neighbor’s house exploded. Police ruled that the explosion was not an accident, but the investigation continues into what triggered it. Homeowner Moncy Shirley, her boyfriend Mark Leonard and his brother Bob have been charged in connection to the explosion. They have denied any wrongdoing.

Story Timeline
Previous Next
This story has 10 updates

INDIANAPOLIS (April 16, 2014) – A co-defendant in the Richmond Hill house explosion case can have tapes of her boyfriend’s alleged murder-for-hire scheme, a judge ruled.

Judge Shirley Carlisle granted a request from attorneys for Moncy Shirley to access those tapes.

Shirley, Mark Leonard and Bob Leonard face multiple charges including murder in connection with the November 2012 blast in the Richmond Hill neighborhood on the south side. The explosion destroyed Shirley’s home and killed neighbors Dion and Jennifer Longworth. Dozens of other homes were damaged or destroyed.

Five months later, investigators said Mark Leonard tried to set up a “hit” on a key witness in the case. Telephone conversations between Leonard and an undercover federal agent posing as a hit man were recorded. According to prosecutors, Leonard offered $15,000 for the hit on the witness and wanted it to look like a suicide, with the victim confessing that he had framed Leonard and the others.

Carlisle said Shirley’s attorneys can have access to transcripts and recordings of the conversations that specifically involve their client.

No trial date has been set in the house explosion case. Shirley and the Leonards were originally set to go on trial in June, but that date has been pushed back and the trials aren’t likely to start until 2015.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (March 19, 2014)– Separate trials for suspects accused of planning and executing an explosion from inside a home in a south side neighborhood will not be happening this June as previously scheduled.

The pretrial originally scheduled for this Friday will also not be happening, according to Mark Leonard’s attorney Deana Martin. No new trial dates have been scheduled either.

Homeowner Moncy Shirley, her boyfriend Mark Leonard and his brother Bob have been charged in connection to the explosion. They have denied any wrongdoing.

The suspects are each charged with more than 50 counts of arson and two counts of murder in connection with a Nov. 10, 2012 home explosion. The incident killed Jennifer and Dion Longworth and left dozens of others homeless in the south side neighborhood.

Earlier this month, the attorney for Mark Leonard said she still hasn’t received forensic evidence from the prosecutor’s office. Bob Leonard’s attorney also said trial preparation is lagging.

Both want a 2015 trial date that’s more realistic. The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office suggests moving the trial back to late summer.

Prosecutors have argued that separate trials for the suspects would be costly and take nearly a year to conclude. Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson said concurrent trials could last two months, but separate trials could last six weeks apiece.

Neighbors said while they expected to have trial delays, they hope this won’t drag on even more.

“I would just hate to think that we would have to go through a two-year anniversary and not have the trials start,” said Doug Aldridge. “The people who have to testify, the people on the subpoena list, they’ve had to put their lives on hold to wait to see what happens in trial. They’ve had to put their vacations on hold. Every time something like this comes up, it just pushes it farther and farther back.”

INDIANAPOLIS (March 5, 2014) – The trials for three people accused of blowing up a south side home in 2012 could be delayed.

New court filings show the trials for Moncy Shirley, Mark Leonard and Bob Leonard would start in June. All three are accused in a plot to destroy Shirley’s home in the Richmond Hill neighborhood in November 2012 in a scheme to collect insurance money.

The attorney for Mark Leonard said she still hasn’t received forensic evidence from the prosecutor’s office. Bob Leonard’s attorney also said trial preparation is lagging.

Both want a 2015 trial date that’s more realistic. The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office suggests moving the trial back to late summer.

Prosecutors wanted the trials held at the same time and in the same courtroom but with three different juries. Defense attorneys said the move would be a logistical nightmare and could jeopardize a fair trial. A judge sided with the defense and denied the prosecution’s request.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 3, 2014)— A Marion County judge ruled the suspects in the Richmond Hill explosion case will be tried separately, denying prosecutors’ requests to have the three defendants tried in one courtroom.

Prosecutors have argued that separate trials for suspects Moncy Shirley, Mark Leonard and Bob Leonard, Jr. would be costly and take nearly a year to conclude. Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson said concurrent trials could last two months, but separate trials could last six weeks apiece.

The suspects are each charged with more than 50 counts of arson and two counts of murder in connection with a Nov. 10, 2012 home explosion. The incident killed Jennifer and Dion Longworth and left dozens of others homeless in the south side neighborhood.

The Richmond Hill trials are tentatively scheduled for June 16, 2014. However, there could be a delay due to the judge’s decision to hold separate trials.

INDIANAPOLIS (Jan. 10, 2014) – An attorney representing Richmond Hill suspect Monserrate Shirley has filed an objection to a prosecutor’s plan to hold his client’s trial concurrently with the cases against two other defendants.

James Voyles filed an objection with Judge Shelia Carlisle in opposition to the proposal for concurrent trials by the Marion County Prosecutors Office.

Voyles argues that trying all three defendants at the same time in front of three seperate juries in a Super Trial would be a “recipe for mistrial disaster.”

Voyles claims he would not be able to mount a vigorous defense for his client if agressive cross-examination or an inadvertent comment by a witness could contaminate either of the juries hearing the cases against co-defendants Bob and Mark Leonard.

Mark Leonard is accused of being the mastermind behind a scheme to destroy Shirley’s home in an insurance scheme in November of 2012.

Investigators claim a natural gas explosion destroyed the home, killed two neighbors and caused $4 million in damages.

Shirley argues she knew nothing about Leonard’s plan with his half-brother to blow up the house.

Richmond Hill three

Moncy Shirley, Mark Leonard, and Bob Leonard

Judge Carlisle has ruled the defendants can be tried separately as their defenses may be predicated on placing the blame on one another.

The Marion County Prosecutor has suggested, due to cost and logistical challenges, that all three trials be held side-by-side before three juries and one judge with jurors excused during sensitive or contradictory testimony.

Voyles argues that Indiana law does not spell out guidelines for concurrent trials and that such an arrangement would be a, “breeding ground for confusion,” as jurors would naturally speculate why they were being excluded during some testimony.

The attorney writes that the, “stakes are high,” for his client who faces the possibility of a life sentence without parole if convicted and that the prosecutor’s proposal would, “gut,” Shirley’s due process rights.

Voyles also shares the prosecutor’s misgivings over trial, security, evidence and jury housing challenges.

Mark Leonard’s attorneys have also filed an objection to the plan.

Judge Shelia Carlisle extended the deadline until today to receive counsel objections to the proposal.

Mark Leonard is expected to be the lead defendant if the trials begin in June.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 4, 2013)– The Richmond Hill insurance fraud and murder conspiracy case promises to be a logistical challenge for Marion Superior Judge Sheila Carlisle, who is faced with protecting the rights of three defendants without breaking the county’s budget and wearing out witnesses.

During a pre-trial hearing, Judge Carlisle told attorneys representing Mark Leonard, Bob Leonard and Monserrate Shirley that they had until Dec. 27 to respond to a prosecutor’s motion that the defendants be tried in one big courtroom in front of two or three juries.

“You would have to go to either a high school or…one of the universities,” said Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson. “I suppose, a library….there are a number of places, I suppose, that would have auditoriums large enough to accommodate.”

When Judge Carlisle approved Mark Leonard and Shirley’s motions for severance, she set the stage for multiple trials.

Leonard and Shirley have indicated they may blame each other for the fatal explosion Nov. 10, 2012, in the Richmond Hill neighborhood.

Two neighbors died in what prosecutors have painted as a scheme intended to defraud an insurance company and get Shirley out of debt.

Bob Leonard has not indicated what his defense will be.

Robinson said that concurrent trials, where multiple juries are seated but shuffled out of the courtroom during conflicting testimony, have be held successfully in other states with the approval of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The defendants’ constitutional rights are still protected as they’ve alleged but, nonetheless, with the large number of witnesses and the large amount of evidence in this case, we would be incurring costs only once instead of three times.”

Robinson estimates she has a witness list of 250 people and a “couple thousand,” pieces of potential evidence to introduce.

By comparison, the recently completed three week long David Bisard case had 80 witnesses, 250 pieces of evidence and was held in Fort Wayne due to pre-trial publicity. The trial cost Marion County at least $60,000 but Allen County has not yet submitted all its bills for reimbursement.

The Richmond Hill trials are set to begin June 16, 2014, though Mark Leonard’s attorneys indicated they doubt that timetable will be met.

Prosecutors would like to try Mark Leonard first as they believe not only was he the driving force behind the alleged scheme but he is also accused of trying to have a witness killed in phone calls from inside the Marion County Jail.

Robinson said concurrent trials could last two months, but separate trials could last six weeks apiece.

Judge Carlisle must still rule on the concurrent trials motion, a motion to force an Indianapolis television station to surrender the outtakes of an interview it did with Shirley’s ex-husband John Shirley and a request to move the case out of Marion County because of pre-trial publicity.

“The judge has said…even if it’s a change of venue case, the juries would be coming from another county here,” said Robinson, “so, she has seemed to indicate the even if its granted, the trial will be held here.”

The three suspects are being held without bond.

They will all return to court for another pre-trial hearing March 5, 2014.

INDIANAPOLIS (Dec. 4, 2013) – Three people accused in the Richmond Hill house explosion return to court Wednesday.

Prosecutors will ask for Mark Leonard, Moncy Shirley and Bob Leonard to be tried at the same time. All three face charges in connection with the Nov. 10, 2012, house explosion on the south side that killed two people and damaged or destroyed dozens of homes.

Mark Leonard and Shirley have been granted separate trials because they may have to accuse one another as part of their defense.

Prosecutors have filed for concurrent jury trials, a move that means one courtroom would hold multiple juries that would hear the cases at the same time. The juries would deliberate separately.

The defense has until the end of the month to respond.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (November 10, 2013) – The three Richmond Hill explosion suspects are bound together by conspiracy and murder charges.

Two of them, boyfriend and girlfriend, Mark Leonard and Monseratte Shirley, don’t want to be tried together and have successfully petitioned for separate trials.

Mark’s half-brother, Bob Leonard, has no idea who he’ll be tried alongside or when.

“Clearly we were looking at a lengthy trial to begin with and so certainly we don’t look forward to the possibly of doing it three times,” Prosecutor Terry Curry said. “But, if that’s what we have to do, we’ll do it.”

Shirley claims it was Leonard’s idea to blow up her house to get her out of debt and she was an emotionally manipulated woman who didn’t know any better.

Abby Jackson, a friend of Shirley’s, says “she told me Mark was taking care of them and Mark was taking care of her and she was good and money was good.  She never would have admitted any of that.”

Mark Leonard wanted a separate trial because he said his defense will include blaming Monserrate Shirley for the conspiracy.

“To the extent that the existence of the conspiracy charge that allows us to bring in things that were stated of said by each of the defendants that could come in a single trial or all three trials,” Curry said.

Shirley is represented by noted defense attorney Jim Voyles, who is known for plea bargaining his clients in tough cases.

INDIANAPOLIS — Folks who live in the Richmond Hill Subdivision came together to remember the tragedy that rocked their neighborhood one year ago. It was the night a massive explosion tore through, leveled the neighborhood, and took two lives. As one woman put it, Sunday’s event was therapeutic, as they continue to recover.

Sunday was the day when this neighborhood shook and then stood still. The residents, their friends and family stood together as a way to cope.

“We just keep moving on, it’s a process over the past year,” said Tylor Smith.

For him, that process has been a difficult one. He was with his family lighting the two luminaries in the center of a big heart. They are in honor of Dion and Jennifer Longworth, his aunt and uncle who died in the explosion.

“If there is one positive thing that we can take out of this, it’s brought an entire neighborhood together, and it’s brought our family a lot closer together,” said Smith.

Tea light candles provided light up and down the Richmond Hill roads for the residents to walk, to remember, to try to move forward. The event started in the afternoon under a clear blue sky. As a whole, the get together provided comfort to Liz Kelley, who’s been in her new home for six weeks now.

“At 11:10 on 11/10/2012, this neighborhood stopped moving and all life stopped for four days and literally two lives stopped forever. And to see this happen is very therapeutic, very up lifting,” said Kelley.

Mayor Greg Ballard showed up to talk to the folks affected.

“It’s amazing, it’s an amazing neighborhood group,” said Mayor Ballard, “it’s hard to put in to words how together they have been.”

And continue to live the days ahead.

“I think now that we’ve faced it, tomorrow will be just a little bit brighter,” said Kelley.

There are still people who haven’t moved back in to their homes, and who are trying to make decisions of their future. Sunday’s event gave many of these people a chance to take a break and come together.

It was the blast that was heard for miles and literally shook a neighborhood from its core.

This Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the Southside explosion. Neighbors at Richmond Hill will forever remember November 10th, as the night three people allegedly blew up their home out of greed.

“I feel like I’m about to relive it all,” said Theresa Carmichael. “I can feel the pressure. I can feel the stress coming on more just because it is the one-year anniversary.”

One year later, Fox 59 sat down with three families who have allowed us to follow their journeys since the explosion. They have been broken, but have strived to rebuild both a home and themselves, day by day.

Cox Family:

“In the mornings, I would get up because I had to get my kids on the bus,” said Andrea Cox.

Four homes from ground zero, the blast destroyed Cox’s house. The south wall, where her son, Chris, slept, suffered the most damage.

Andrea remembers those frantic seconds after the blast when he didn’t come out of his room.

“The climb up those 17 steps was the longest climb ever,” said Cox. “I saw a triangle of insulation on his head and I said, ‘Something horrible has happened. You’ve got to get out of your bed.’”

It was hard to keep spirits high during the holidays. With most of their belongings in storage, their home of nine years demolished, the family of four spent Christmas in their temporary apartment.

They were also still mourning the loss of their dog, Shadow.

“I felt like a huge failure as a mom,” said Cox. “I promised the kids that she would be okay and we’d find her. That’s the first promise I ever broke to my kids.”

Through their heart-ache, the Cox family has found healing – from the first day crews broke ground, to last-minute checks before move-in day.

As she walked around her new home, Cox knows what’s brought her here is a new-found faith that’s never felt so strong.

“I went through each of the rooms and found a verse from the bible and wrote it with permanent market. So I have Bible created within the house,” she said.

Carmichael Family:

Just down the street, those words of hope are hung right by Theresa Carmichael’s front door.

“I call this my wall of faith. My wall of love,” she said. “Just the things we need to remember every day.”

It is a daily reminder for her and daughter, Rhianna. The single mom was able to salvage their home after the explosion. Theresa immediately devoted herself to help neighbors who lost everything.

Her nickname was ‘Deputy Mayor’.

“I’ll never forget driving through just to see what greed and evil did to our community,” said Theresa.

However, Theresa began noticing problems at home once winter came. The walls were buckling, her stairwell and floors were squeaking from being shifted off its foundation.

She, too, had to move out.

“I would come home crying every day, even though my home was there,” Theresa said tearfully. “You go on with life. It’s just…we’ll never forget.”

Schout Family

“I had to make the world as right as I could, as soon as I could,” said Sarah Schout. “When things aren’t under my control, it’s hard to figure out what your next step should be.”

Sarah Schout’s journey has been nothing short of overwhelming. It’s been especially hard for her two oldest, Ethan and Ada, who are autistic. Sarah and her husband, Garrett, decided to keep the kids away from the disaster until they broke ground in August.

“We wanted to give them something positive to see. It’s hard for them, especially our two oldest, to understand.”

The Schouts have found blessings in their loss. With their insurance settlement and savings, the family of six is transforming their 1500-square-foot full house to a two-story with more than double the space.

They are hoping to move in by Christmas.

“We were not expecting to get this kind of house,” Schout chuckled. ”Now we’re going to get it three years early!”

Those in Richmond Hill know life may never be quite like what it was. These women have learned to look past those missing holes.

Instead, they would much rather give the finishing touches.

“I just want the house to be filled with love and laughter,” said Cox.

Advertisement