Jury begins deliberations in second Richmond Hill house explosion trial

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Bob Leonard walks to court on Jan. 19, 2016

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Feb. 23, 2016) — The jury has started deliberations in the second Richmond Hill explosion trial. Bob Leonard is accused of conspiring with his half-brother Mark Leonard and his girlfriend Monserrate Shirley of blowing up her house with intentionally leaked natural gas on Indianapolis’s southside on November 10, 2012.

Two neighbors, Jennifer and Dion Longworth, were killed in the blast. More than 80 homes were damaged or destroyed with losses pegged in excess of $4 million in what prosecutors have charged was an insurance fraud plot.

Judge Frances Gull walked the jury through 51 counts ranging from murder, felony murder, arson and arson with injury. Following the reading of the charges and preliminary jury instructions, Judge Gull allotted each side up to two hours to make their final arguments.

Deputy Prosecutor Mark Hollingsworth took slightly more than one hour to tell jurors in the Richmond Hill trial of Bob Leonard, Jr., that DNA evidence, surveillance videos, testimony and the defendant’s own words prove the guilt of the accused co-conspirator in the fatal insurance fraud plot.

Hollingsworth told jurors that Leonard was in on the plot two months before the blast, bragging at a Southport High School class reunion that he was about to come into a big insurance policy payoff. Prosecutors contend Leonard expected to receive $10,000 for his role in the conspiracy.

Videotapes were introduced that showed the Leonard brothers purchasing a thermostat as part of an earlier failed attempt, said Hollingsworth, and the defendants talking to a Citizens Energy employee about the explosive properties of natural gas the day before the tragedy.

Some of the evidence taken from the home before the explosion was later found at Leonard’s house and disposed of before investigators closed in.

Gasoline cans and a high powered saw that prosecutors said could have been used to prepare the Shirley home for the explosion were found in the white Ford van that Bob Leonard was driving that weekend.

Hollingsworth argued that Leonard should have known that exploding a house full of natural gas in such a tightly packed neighborhood as the Richmond Hill community would result in injuries and deaths.

The prosecution also reminded the jurors of jailhouse conversations Leonard had in Allen and Marion counties with inmates in which he essentially admitted his role in the blast.

After prosecutors spent half of their allotted time attempting to convince jurors that Bob Leonard played an integral role in the tragic Richmond Hill explosion, a defense attorney used his full two hours to punch holes in the state’s case and argue that his client wasn’t there.

Defense Attorney Ted Minch argued that since investigators don’t have a specific ignition source or fuel of the explosion determined, and there was no evidence of Bob Leonard’s presence at the house on Fieldfare Way on the day of the blast, they must return a not guilty verdict.

Minch argued that much of the State’s case relies on the suspect testimony of Shirley and that several key parts of her version of Leonard’s involvement depend on secondhand information by her former boyfriend.

The defense also asked jurors to do their own investigation and study Bob Leonard’s cell phone records to determine that he could not be on the phone discussing the plot when Shirley’s claims to have overheard conversations, that he was not in the Richmond Hill neighborhood the day of the explosion and that the presence of his phone the night before was consistent with the defendant’s visit to a southside bar.

Minch said that his client’s participation in talks with a utility company employee about the explosive potential of natural gas was innocuous at best.

In her final summation Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson said essentially in for a penny, in for a pound. If Bob Leonard is found guilty of any participation in the planning and execution of the explosion, even if he wasn’t at Shirley’s house that day, he’s guilty of murder.

We spoke with Robinson after the jury received the case, and she says she’s pleased with the way it went.

“There is a mountain of evidence in this case there is a lot for them to consider a lot for them to take to heart and hopefully they can do that, and I think they can,” said Robinson.

If convicted, Leonard faces the same fate at his half-brother of life in prison without parole.

Shirley testified against both brothers and has pleaded guilty to lesser charges. She awaits sentencing.

Gary Thompson and Glenn Hults are yet to face trial for their alleged roles in the conspiracy.

If a guilty verdict is reached, then the jury may be required to sit through the penalty phase to determine if a sentence of life without parole is appropriate.

Dion Longworth’s father John Longworth spoke with us, and he said he’s still grieving every day. “It is something you do learn to live with and I think anybody who has lost a child or anyone else close to them I think they will understand that,” said Longworth. Longworth’s sister sat next to him today, carrying a picture of Dion.

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