Plea deal reached in Richmond Hill house explosion case; hearing next week

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INDIANAPOLIS (Jan. 16, 2015) – Prosecutors reached a plea deal with one of the three suspects in the November 2012 house explosion on the south side of Indianapolis.

A change of plea hearing is set for January 20, for Monserrate Shirley, according to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office. Details of the agreement were unavailable but the prosecutor confirms Shirley will change her plea from innocent to guilty.

Shirley, Mark Leonard and Bob Leonard are accused of plotting to blow up a home in the Richmond Hill subdivision in a scheme to collect insurance money. Two people died in the resulting blast, and dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed to the tune of $4 million.

All three were charged with two counts of murder, one count of conspiracy to commit arson and multiple counts of arson. Shirley also faces a charge of conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.

According to legal experts any agreement leading to the conviction of the Leonard brothers would likely mean a shorter prison sentence for Shirley instead of life without parole.

Defense attorney and former prosecutor Ralph Staples said plea agreements are typically offered to the “weak link” suspect, someone who is involved but not the ringleader.

“There may be some things that they just can’t get from the evidence they’ve gathered through investigation and they need someone who was on the inside to let them know what’s missing,” said Staples.

Shirley’s neighbors, Dion and Jennifer Longworth, were killed during the explosion. A family member of one of the Richmond Hill victims responded to news of the plea agreement saying, “We appreciate all the efforts of the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office in bringing the people responsible for this tragedy to justice.”

People living in the Richmond Hill neighborhood tell FOX59 there was a meeting to discuss the plea agreement Thursday night. Residents declined to comment on the deal before the court hearing next week.

In December, a judge granted a change of venue request for Shirley’s trial, although no trial date was set.

Mark Leonard’s trial is set for June in St. Joseph County. His attorney released the following statement: Mr. Leonard has said he’s not guilty all along. The plea impacts Mr. Leonard only as far as we’ll now need additional time and resources to investigate Ms. Shirley’s claims and the circumstance of the convenient agreement she and the state have reached.

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