SOUTH BEND, Ind. (Aug. 14, 2015)– Unless his appeals attorneys can work some kind of case law miracle, Mark Leonard will never again be free to walk among law-abiding society.
St. Joseph Superior Judge John Marnocha sentenced Leonard to a pair of consecutive life without parole sentences and an additional 75 years in prison for his role as the lead conspirator in the murderous 2012 Richmond Hill explosion.
“Mr. Leonard is the prime mover of this event,” said Judge Marnocha in passing sentence. “He was not a bystander, turning all of those folks into felons motivated by greed.”
The judge called Leonard “the worst of the worst” for coercing four friends, including girlfriend Monserrate Shirley, into blowing up the house at 8349 Fieldfare Way on November 10, 2012, in pursuit of a $300,000 insurance payoff.
“I guess we won,” said Don Buxton, whose daughter Jennifer Longworth died in the blast. “None of that will bring Jenny and Dion back as everybody knows. We’re pleased but as John (Longworth) just said, we’re glad Judge Marnocha recognized Mark Leonard as the worst of the worst, and somehow that helps a little bit.”
The court referred to Leonard’s “callous disregard for the sanctity of people’s homes and possessions and the safety of people.”
Some of those residents appeared in court for the sentencing to tell the judge of the nightmare Leonard and his friends visited upon their community on that warm autumn Saturday night.
“It just shows in this situation our neighborhood has come together that we know our neighbors better nowadays,” said Bryan Hollingsworth who testified during the trial.
In a rare appearance, ten jurors returned to Judge Marnocha’s courtroom to watch the sentencing of the man they convicted of 53 counts exactly one month before.
“I would go home from sitting and be so totally exhausted,” said Edel Berberi about the six-week-long trial. “I would go to bed by 8:30…just the whole emotion got to me.”
“By the time it was over, some of us just wanted to see it through the rest of the way,” said Dan Goheen. “The judge is a very smart man and he thinks everything out and I don’t think he would make a bad decision at all.”
Judge Marnocha said he was limited by judicial rules from sending a message with his sentence, but Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson said she wasn’t.
“We can say based upon what we’ve done here, ‘You better think twice before you engage in this kind of conduct or there will be a very heavy penalty to pay.'”
Judge Marnocha referred to research done by Leonard and Bob Leonard, Jr., who is accused of conspiring with his half-brother to set the blast, which led them to perfect their plot.
Robinson will try the other Leonard brother in a Fort Wayne courtroom in January 2016.
“This case took about six weeks and we got guilty verdicts on all counts in about three hours,” she said. “I don’t foresee doing too much differently when it comes to Bob Leonard.”
Gary Thompson is accused of accompanying Bob Leonard, Jr., to Shirley’s house that day to fill the home with natural gas and set a timer on a microwave oven to trigger the blast.
Glenn Hults is charged with conspiring to hide Shirley’s belongings taken from the house before the explosion.
Shirley testified against her ex-boyfriend, and is expected to take the stand against her former friends, as part of a plea agreement to be sentenced on reduced charges.
Judge Marnocha said that while he did not think Shirley was a victim, “I will not portray her as someone who was taken advantage of by Mr. Leonard.”
The judge said Shirley was a somewhat unwilling participant who continued to go along with the plan even after she failed in an attempt to give Leonard $10,000 from a retirement account to save her house.
After the sentencing, Leonard was led from the courtroom in handcuffs and loaded into a St. Joseph County Sheriff’s wagon to be transported back to his jail cell.
He will be eventually transferred to the Indiana Department of Correction Plainfield Diagnostic Center for evaluation and placement in a State prison.
Next Wednesday, Leonard will appear in a Marion County courtroom to face a pre-trial hearing in another insurance fraud case involving a stolen motorcycle.
While total property losses from the explosion were pegged at nearly $5 million, Judge Marnocha said he would not make restitution part of Leonard’s sentence, though victims are free to pursue civil lawsuits if the killer should somehow financially benefit from the publishing or movie rights to his story.