Four years after Richmond Hill explosion, Monserrate Shirley to be sentenced

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Monserrate Shirley

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It has been exactly 1,500 days since an explosion in the Richmond Hill subdivision damaged dozens of homes, causing more than $4 million in property damages… 1,500 days since the deaths of Jennifer and Dion Longworth… 1,500 days that Monserrate Shirley has been guilty.

But soon, her chapter in the case will close.

Shirley’s sentencing started Monday morning at 9 a.m. She faces 20 to 50 years in prison for two counts conspiracy to commit arson. It’s also possible she will walk free if the judge sentences her to time served with probation and suspends her sentence.

Marion County Judge Sheila Carlisle heard victim impact statements from more than a dozen Richmond Hill residents, as well as friends and family members of Dion and Jennifer Longworth.  The Longworths lived next door to Shirley and were killed when the violent blast destroyed their home.

“We have been living without Jenny for four years now,” said Jennifer Longworth’s father Don Buxton.  “I don’t know how many more years that will last, but I know as long as it lasts it will be without Jenny.  So you can’t put a value on that.”

Shirley agreed to plead guilty to the charge in exchange for the other charges being dropped. In return, she also agreed to testify against her co-conspirators, including her ex-boyfriend Mark Leonard. Shirley claims Leonard coerced her involvement, testifying that he threatened her and her daughter.

She told the court she watched as Leonard and another conspirator stuff cardboard into the chimney of her Richmond Hill home, fueling the explosion by keeping the natural gas in.

According to Shirley’s account, she was struggling to stay financially afloat when she met Leonard. Within a month of dating, she says he came up with the idea. Their house exploded on their third attempt of trying to claim insurance money.

Glenn Olvey, who was trapped with his family inside their burning house on the night of the explosion, doesn’t believe Shirley when she makes those claims.

“She knew exactly what she was doing,” Olvey said. There’s no doubt in my mind, no doubt in anybody’s mind.”

Olvey is one of many to testify that Shirley, who worked as a registered nurse, was smart enough to realize that igniting a house filled with natural gas would have devastating consequences.  He also doesn’t believe Shirley’s expressions of remorse.

“You’re going to allow this to happen to a neighborhood and you’re not going to drop one real tear,” Olvey said.  “You’re not going to say I’m sorry?  You’re not going to do anything?”

Buxton was one of several in the courtroom who asked Judge Carlisle to give Shirley the maximum sentence possible.

“She should get exactly what those guys got, and in reality, they should all be on death row,” Buxton said.

Dion Longworth’s father, John Longworth, told the judge he would be happy with whatever decision she makes.  He says he has spent the last four years struggling with thoughts of revenge and forgiveness.

“I have forgiven these people every day,” he said.  “I don’t want people to think that I say I’ve forgiven them and it goes away and that everything is let bygones be bygones.  It’s being able to let go of it so that I don’t put my fist through every wall that I come to.”

“You have to keep forgiving others and letting go of things,” Longworth continued.  “That doesn’t mean I say that what you did was okay, but it means that I have to learn to keep letting go of things.”

The Leonard brothers have already been convicted and are both serving life sentences without the possibility of parole.  A co-conspirator in the scheme, Gary Thompson is already serving a 20-year prison sentence.  Glenn Hults, who pleaded guilty to a felony for knowing about the plot but failing to report it to police, is scheduled for sentencing on December 28.

Hults faces no prison time to three years behind bars after pleading guilty to assisting a criminal.

Four people were expected to testify on Shirley’s behalf Tuesday.  They include Shirley, two doctors and another woman.  The judge will announce the sentence after the proceedings have finished.

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