RICHMOND HILL VERDICT: Jury finds Bob Leonard guilty on all counts
FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Feb. 24, 2016) — It took a jury in Fort Wayne just about four hours and 30 minutes to return 51 guilty verdicts against Bob Leonard Jr.
Leonard was convicted for his role in the natural gas explosion that blew up Monserrate Shirley’s house in the Richmond Hill community on November 10, 2012, killing two neighbors and destroying more than 80 homes. The total cost of the damage was more than $4 million.
Leonard waived his right to have a hearing in front of a jury, and instead Allen Superior Judge Frances Gull will make that decision. Judge Gull listened to tape of Dion Longworth burning in his home during the life without parole hearing phase, and during that hearing she determined Leonard would be eligible for life without parole. She set the sentencing date for March 18.
Leonard’s trial was moved to the Allen County Courthouse in downtown Fort Wayne when it became apparent too many potential jurors in Indianapolis had either seen the story in the media, woke up at the sound of the explosion or knew people in Richmond Hill.
John Longworth, Dion Longworth’s father, was very emotional following Leonard’s guilty verdict: “I miss them everyday. That’s the important thing.I could really care less what happens to these people; they didn’t care what happened to anyone else, so I don’t try and give them much thought.”
When John Longworth was asked for his opinion on Bob Leonard receiving life without parole, he said, “Life without parole tells people that was a very horrible thing that was done.”
Prosecutor Denise Robinson says there are no metaphorical high-fives following the guilty verdict, and ultimately, this case is about getting justice. “Ultimately these cases are about justice, about getting the right result, about doing the right thing, and hoping in the end that to the extent that you can bring justice to the residents of Richmond hill and the Longworth and Buxton families. That’s our job.”
Juror Casey Shafer spoke with the media, and he said several key factors in the jury finding Mark Leonard guilty were the DNA evidence on the door and the van and testimony by Leonard’s son Justin Leonard.
During the life without parole sentencing hearing, for the first time Judge Gull listened to the audio from the 911 call of Dion Longworth burning to death in his home. Robinson says it was necessary for the judge to listen to the audio to prove an aggravating circumstance. “Speaking for myself, as a 25-year prosecutor, that tape is one of the most chilling things I’ve ever heard because you are hearing someone die on that tape. And it was significant the first time I heard it… and three years later it’s just as significant, just as impactful today as it was three years ago,” said Robinson.
Leonard’s attorney Ted Minch says he’s very disappointed in the outcome, and he still believe prosecutors haven’t done enough to prove Bob Leonard’s role in the explosion. “I don’t think the evidence was surmountable against him. I think what we were always concerned about, and we tried to tell the jury this, that it’s just the enormity of the case. And can you get beyond the enormity of the case, the amount of destruction, the death, the description that you hear it’s like a war zone? That was always our concern, and I don’t think we were ever able to overcome that.”
In the end, the State and Bob Leonard both came 125 miles to find justice from a panel of five women and seven men far removed from the scene of the crime.