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Judge to deliver Mark Leonard’s sentence Friday for Richmond Hill explosion

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (Aug. 13, 2015)-- The man convicted of plotting the murderous Richmond Hill explosion that took two lives in 2012 will learn his fate in a South Bend courtroom Friday.

Mark Leonard will go before St. Joseph Superior Judge John Marnocha who will determine if the convicted killer should spend his life in prison with no hope of parole.

Leonard was convicted last month of 54 counts, including murder, for the explosion that leveled parts of a southside neighborhood in an insurance fraud plot.

Last week, Judge Marnocha found that during a July evidentiary hearing, prosecutors made a persuasive argument in favor of life without parole while Leonard's attorneys simply argued the inappropriateness of the law.

The court said that Dion Longworth, who died along with his wife Jennifer, was essentially burned alive when neighbor Monserrate Shirley's house went up a natural gas blast akin to an explosive device. Those conditions, along with the arson plot, serve as aggravators in determining the sentence.

Judge Marnocha wrote that the defense offered no mitigating circumstances, though he was reserving judgement until his review of a probation report.

"There are certain elements the judge has to consider," said attorney Chris Eskew, who is not connected to this case. "Criminal history, the character of the defendant, whether or not the victims were over a certain age or under a certain-- things like that they must consider.

"If a defense attorney offers a bunch of letters, testimony, certain things about an individual's upbringing and things of that nature, a judge can look at that and can consider it as a mitigator or an aggravator under the circumstances," Eskew said.

During Leonard's trial, jurors were told he had attempted to kill a witness while incarcerated at the Marion County jail.

Several women reported that Leonard scammed them out of tens of thousands of dollars and he faces a separate insurance fraud charge involving a stolen motorcycle.

Leonard's attorneys have indicated they are not in favor of allowing their client to testify on his own behalf to ask for leniency or show remorse to victims who will be in the courtroom.

"It really depends on each individual case, how your client comes across, whether it's going to be believable that he's remorseful or not, whether or not you want to consider an admission of guilt at that point in time would affect any appeals and things of that nature," said Eskew.

Prosecutors expect approximately one dozen witnesses will testify for the State.

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