SOUTH BEND, Ind. (July 14, 2015) — It took a jury in South Bend just three hours over two days to return 53 guilty verdicts against the man accused in the largest and most complex murder case in Indianapolis history.
Mark Leonard faces the possibility of serving life without parole for conceiving of and directing the natural gas explosion that exploded his girlfriend’s house in the Richmond Hill community on November 10, 2012, killing two neighbors and destroying more than 80 homes. The total cost of the damage was more than $4 million.
Along with two counts of murder, for the deaths of Dion and Jennifer Longworth, Leonard was convicted of various arson and conspiracy insurance fraud charges.
“I think hearing 53 counts of guilty after all the work we put in over two-and-a-half years and six weeks of trial…just kind of numb,” said defense attorney David Shircliff, when asked about the reaction of his team and his client to the jury’s decision. “You know, we told him to stay calm no matter what the verdicts are, and like the rest of us, it kind of happened really swiftly and he was escorted out of the court, and we really haven’t had time to process with him.”
“Once I heard ‘count one: guilty,’ I had every confidence the rest of them would follow along in line,” said deputy prosecutor Mark Hollingsworth, “and given the nature of the evidence, if they convict on murder count one, the others should fall like dominoes.”
Hollingsworth and deputy prosecutor Denise Robinson assembled more than 2,000 pieces of evidence and the testimony of more than 100 witnesses to explain to jurors how Leonard conspired to fill Monserrate Shirley’s house with natural gas and spark off an explosion with a metal canister inside a microwave oven equipped with a delayed timer.
“I think it was the accumulation of the physical evidence, because in the end, the defense couldn’t explain that away,” said Robinson, explaining why she thought the jury moved so quickly to convict. “They could try attacks on Monserrate Shirley, they could try attacks on other witnesses that testified, but they couldn’t attack the physical evidence.”
As the lead deputy prosecutor in Marion County, Robinson responds immediately to virtually every homicide investigation in Indianapolis and was a fixture at Richmond Hill in the days after the blast.
“I’m very gratified that the jury verdict will be felt in Indianapolis,” said Robinson. “That the people of Richmond Hill will hear it and will know that our commitment to them and Indianapolis never wavered.”
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry issued the following statement about the verdict:
“On the evening of November 19, 2012, many of us from the public safety community stood in the dark on the Southside to disclose that the investigation of the circumstances of the Richmond Hill explosion was now a homicide investigation. Today’s verdict confirms what investigators realized from almost day one, that the explosion which occurred on November 10 was a senseless, criminal act which resulted in the horrific deaths of Dion and Jennifer Longworth, injury to dozens of others, unparalleled property destruction, and the loss of a sense of safety and security for all residents of that neighborhood. By today’s conviction of Mark Leonard and the guilty plea by Monserrate Shirley, we have now completed two significant steps in realizing the justice we have pledged from day one for the Richmond Hill residents.
“The investigation and prosecution of this matter has literally taken tens of thousands of hours of effort by numerous individuals. I commend Det. Jeffrey Wager and IMPD investigators, Lt. Mario Garza and IFD investigators, agents of the Federal ATF, and our trial team for their extraordinary work leading to this conviction.”
Public Safety Director Troy Riggs thanked Curry and his staff for their work:
“On behalf of the 3,200 members of the Department of Public Safety, I would like to thank Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry and his team for their dedicated work and successful prosecution today. This has been a difficult time for not only the Richmond Hill residents, but the city as a whole. Thank you to the public safety personnel who responded that night – many of whom were off duty – as well as those who investigated and helped residents rebuild their lives.
“I would like to also thank Chief Gary Coons who oversaw the operations at Richmond Hills the day after the explosion.”
Division of Homeland Security Chief Gary Coons also weighed in:
“My heart and thoughts are with the Richmond Hill families as this has been a long path to holding someone accountable. I pray for the families of Dion and Jennifer Longworth and Richmond Hills residents.”
Leonard’s trial was moved to the St. Joseph County Courthouse in downtown South Bend, when it became apparent too many potential jurors in Indianapolis had either seen the story in the media, woke up at the sound of the explosion or knew people in Richmond Hill.
In the end, the State and Mark Leonard both came 140 miles to find justice from a panel of six women and six men far removed from the scene of the crime.
“I think it says maybe in the end being from Indiana is something special,” said Robinson.
Judge John Marnocha will listen to arguments Wednesday from prosecutors and Leonard’s attorneys as to whether the convicted killer should be sent to prison without the potential of ever going free.
A sentencing decision is expected within a month.