Homeowner Monserrate Shirley sentenced to 50 years for role in deadly Richmond Hill explosion

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Four years after the deadly Richmond Hill explosion, another chapter has closed.

Marion County Superior Court Judge Sheila Carlisle sentenced Monserrate Shirley to spend the maximum sentence of 50 years in prison on Tuesday.

The sentence accounts for time served and good time credit. She has already been behind bars for four years. That becomes eight years when good time credit is applied. Ultimately, she could end up serving 21 years if she maintains good behavior in prison.

Shirley owned the home at the epicenter of the November 2012 explosion that killed two people and damaged dozens of other homes causing more than $4 million in damages.

Denise Robinson, the Marion County Prosecutor on the case, told the court she rarely asks for the maximum sentence.  But in this case, Monserrate Shirley had already received leniency from the state when she entered into a plea agreement that dismissed a total of 50 charges, including murder.

“Arguing for the maximum in this case, when you live with this case and you see the impact, and you know what devastating effect it’s had on these lives, it just compels you to argue for that,” said Marion County Prosecutor Denise Robinson.

“When we got in this case, we were asked to save her life,” said defense attorney James Voyles.  “We have done that.  It’s a difficult case.  It’s very difficult sentencing hearing we’ve been through for two days.  But ultimately I think we were able to accomplish what we needed to do for her.”

Shirley agreed to plead guilty to two counts conspiracy to commit arson and testify against the co-conspirators in exchange for having all other charges dropped.

The co-conspirators include Shirley’s boyfriend at the time, Mark Leonard, and his brother, Bob Leonard Jr. The brothers were sentenced to terms of life without parole for spearheading the conspiracy.

Shirley claims Leonard coerced her involvement, testifying that he threatened her and her daughter.

Much of Tuesday’s testimony included accounts of Shirley’s difficult childhood.  She grew up in Puerto Rico with a violently abusive father who would often beat Shirley as well as her siblings and mother.  Two mental health experts testified that her childhood could have contributed to her decision to stay with Mark Leonard and go along with his plan to blow up her house for insurance money.

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

“I want everyone to know how sorry I am for this horrible tragedy,” she said in court in front of Richmond Hill residents. “I was scared for my life and the life of my daughter.”

“Forgive me for my poor choices in life,” she continued. “Every day I ask myself why I didn’t stop this.  The truth is, I was scared.”

Shirley’s apology rang hollow to many Richmond Hill residents in the courtroom.  It also didn’t carry much weight for the families of Dion and Jennifer Longworth, who died in the blast.

“Too little, too late,” said Jennifer Longworth’s father, Don Buxton.  “I didn’t give it any credibility.  I see a con artist when I look at her.”

“If she really is apologetic, then I accept the apology,” said Dion Longworth’s father, John Longworth.  “I don’t believe in vengeance and I know that my son is not a person that would accept vengeance and such things, he didn’t live that way.”

“I look at Monserrate Shirley and I see a wasted life,” said Tony Burnett, who lived across the street from Shirley.  “I look at a neighbor that I would have been happy to help if she would have just come across the street and said, man I got a problem will you give me a hand?  And I look at all the opportunity she had where she could have gone for help and she never did.”

Gary Thompson was handed a 30-year prison sentence, 20 years executed, for his role in the murderous insurance fraud scheme.

Glenn Hults, the final defendant to stand trial for the explosion, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge last month that may result in no additional jail time.

His sentencing is set for December 28, 2016 at 1 p.m.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry issued the following statement:

“We respect the Court’s decision ordering Monserrate Shirley to serve a fifty-year prison sentence for her participation in this senseless conspiracy. Ms. Shirley ultimately took responsibility for her actions by pleading guilty and provided important information during the investigation. Her role in the plan and execution of this act protected her own child and the family pet, but failed to consider the obvious danger it presented to anyone else.

“We again offer our condolences to the families of Dion and Jennifer Longworth and to those who suffered injury and loss. No one involved in this investigation or prosecution will forget the stories of this tragedy and the continuing fear and trauma that it caused to the survivors. During the course of this lengthy process, we have sincerely appreciated the cooperation and patience of these families.

“As stated previously, 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 commitment and perseverance to bring justice for the Richmond Hill residents.”

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