Man found guilty in 2012 Indiana home blast that killed neighbors

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 14, 2015 7:28 PM

(Reuters) - An Indiana jury on Tuesday found a man guilty of murder and arson for trying to burn down a house for insurance money in November 2012, an act which sparked an explosion that killed two neighbors and damaged scores of nearby homes.

Mark Leonard, 46, one of five people charged in the case, was found guilty on all 53 charges brought against him, said Marion County prosecutors, who are seeking a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Dozens of people were injured in the explosion that destroyed the house and severely damaged nearby homes in the Richmond Hill neighborhood of Indianapolis.

Prosecutors said the blast was caused by using a microwave oven on a timer to ignite natural gas that was allowed to build up in the house.

Leonard's former girlfriend, Monserrate Shirley, agreed to plead guilty, while three other men are charged in connection with the case. Leonard and Shirley had lived in the house where the explosion originated.

"By today's conviction of Mark Leonard and the guilty plea by Monserrate Shirley, we have now completed two significant steps in realizing the justice we have pledged from day one for the Richmond Hill residents," prosecutor Terry Curry said in a statement after the verdict.

The trial was moved to St. Joseph County court in South Bend because of media coverage of the case in Indianapolis.

Leonard's defense called only one witness and questioned Shirley's credibility, describing her as a master liar, according to the South Bend Tribune.

Curry called the explosion "a senseless criminal act." John Longworth and Jennifer Longworth died in a fire at their home next door.

Prosecutors have said that the personal property insurance was raised on the house and photographs and personal financial records removed before the explosion, which took place on a weekend when Shirley and Leonard were away.

(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Eric Walsh)