Excess gas levels inside Richmond Hill home was the equivalent of 3 tons of TNT, says official

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Richmond Hill explosion damage

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (June 18, 2015) — Jurors in Mark Leonard’s double murder trial in the Richmond Hill case were told this morning that an excessive amount of natural gas equivalent to more than three tons of TNT was pumped into a south side Indianapolis home leading up to a fatal 2012 explosion.

Live blog: Go inside the courtroom with FOX59.

Leonard is accused of leading an insurance fraud conspiracy to destroy his girlfriend’s home through a miscalculated natural gas explosion that damaged or destroyed 80 homes at a loss in excess of $4 million.

Jennifer and Dion Longworth died in the explosion and fire that consumed their home next door.

Citizens Energy Group Vice President Christopher Braun identified photographs of the gas meter from 8349 Fieldfare Way which was found the day after the blast. Braun said subsequent testing of the meter proved there was no malfunction of the device and its reading was compared to two other meters on Fieldfare Way.

Braun said subsequent testing of the meter proved there was no malfunction of the device and its reading was compared to two other meters on Fieldfare Way.

The readings showed Monserrate Shirley’s house used two and half times the amount of natural gas as those of her neighbors by Nov. 10, 2012.

Braun said Shirley’s utility history indicated her house should have used 74 hundreds cubic feet of natural gas for the early November bill, which would have been in line with usage at her neighbors’ houses.

Instead, engineers determined that 186 ccf were pumped into her house.

Braun said the effect of the excess gas inside the house caused it to blow up to the effect of an estimated 6,844 pounds of TNT.

The veteran utility executive testified that natural gas is flammable when it is within a 5-15 percent gas-to-air mixture with lower levels found near the floor and higher levels closer to the roofline of the house.

Too little or too much natural gas will fail to ignite.

Braun told jurors that the level of natural gas would not be uniform throughout the house.

Investigators believe there may have been up to six potential ignition points within the residence and any one of those would be located in the “sweet spot” where the gas-to-air mixture was just right.

Under cross examination by Defense Counsel Diane Black Braun admitted that not all the excessive consumption could be traced to the afternoon and evening hours of November 10th when investigators theorized that co-conspirators Bob Leonard, Jr., and Gary Thompson disabled natural gas control valves to fill the home with fuel.

Prosecutors claim they have documented at least two previous attempts to destroy Shirley’s home which also included the introduction of excess natural gas into the dwelling.

Investigators have testified that a key piece of an attachment to the gas meter at Monserrate Shirley’s house, a step down regulator that controls the amount of natural gas that can be introduced into a home, was missing and replaced by a hard piece of black piping.

Another valve to control the amount of fuel to a gas-fed fireplace was also missing as one inspector told jurors, “anybody who understands a little bit of plumbing could do it” wielding only a pipe wrench.

Leonard has shown more interest in the evidence aspect of this case as opposed to the dozens of stories told by Richmond Hill residents about what they saw the night of the explosion.

“The evidence is becoming a little bit more critical in relation to the culpability of Mr. Leonard,” said St. Joseph Superior Judge John Marnocha who is hearing the case in his South Bend courtroom. “I don’t think there is any dispute as to what happen, the explosion and the damages…the issue seems to be the results.”

The Court then quoted the opening statement of Leonard’s attorneys as to his involvement in the tragedy.

“The purpose of that was to receive insurance monies,” said the judge. “This was a simple insurance fraud that had gone terribly wrong.”

In answer to a defense motion to exclude a demonstration video portraying the sound of excessive hissing gas moving through a gas meter, Marnocha said “it seems to me pretty clear that the meter did not have the proper regulator on it when it was recovered from the scene…the removal of the regulator theoretically could allow more gas into the home…when the regulator was removed you could actually hear more gas going through the meter.”

Dirk Shaw of Marion County Forensic Services Agency testified that he examined a metal canister found at the scene that appeared to have contained a potentially explosive liquid and was significantly damaged.

“Definitely there are indications that this bottle did explode,” he told jurors. Outside the presence of the jury Shaw told the Court that internal brought on by intense heat likely caused the bottle to explode.

Jurors viewed photographs of the remains of the container and a microwave oven that appeared to have been damaged from an explosion that originated inside the device.

“Could that bottle have been placed in a microwave?” Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson asked Shaw in her search for an ignition point of the explosion.

“Yes,” he answered.

John Shirley, ex-husband of accused co-conspirator Monserrate Shirley, recalled for jurors a sketch he gave federal investigators of his former home detailing its floor plan and gas lines feeding a hot water heater, furnace and fireplace.

Shirley said that when he divorced his wife, he gave her possession of their home though its furnishings were changed by the time of the explosion.

When Shirley called his ex-wife the day after the blast, he said she told him, “‘It was our house’…crying…and it freaked me out.”

Shirley said he asked about his daughter’s cat Snowball which he expected to be killed in the explosion and he was told the pet was, “staying someplace…and I thought that was odd.”

Snowball always stayed home when the family went away on overnight trips, said Shirley.

Monserrate Shirley told FOX59 News that she boarded the cat three times during weekend trips in the fall of 2012, which would coincide with the Prosecution’s theory that Shirley and Leonard repeatedly tried to blow up her home before succeeding.

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