Mark Leonard faces new charges in Richmond Hill explosion case

Attorneys for the defendants inspected the explosion site last month.
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Mark Leonard, one of three people accused in the Richmond Hill explosion, faces one count of conspiracy to commit murder.

Leonard is accused of trying to have a key witness in the case murdered. But how he went about making that request is what is so shocking. He simply picked up a jailhouse phone and talked to whom he thought was a hit man.  But the voice on the other end was actually an agent for Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry announced the new charge against Leonard Thursday. Curry says Leonard plotted to kill a witness in exchange for $15,000.

Curry said a jail guard overheard a phone call in which Leonard plotted to kill a witness who could testify against him.

See the probable cause affidavit here.

"These people are desperate people and they'll do anything it takes," said Marion County Sheriff John Layton. "They have 24 hours a day to lay in a bunk in the Marion County Jail and think about what they could and couldn't do, what would work and what won't and when you're faced with the possibility of life imprisonment they'll do just about anything to get out of that situation."

The probable cause outlines the case against Leonard. It alleges that while Leonard was in jail, he spoke with a cell mate who he believed was a member of a local motorcycle gang. Leonard allegedly asked the man, identified as RS, if he might be able to arrange for the death of a man identified as MD whom Leonard said was "blabbing like a [expletive]." Leonard said MD had informed on him during the explosion investigation and he had to prevent him from testifying.

"In each of these conversations, he confirmed every single time, his intent to have this witness killed," said Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry.

Leonard and RS worked out the details, including a map with directions to MD's house. Leonard drew the map and signed a document promising to pay $15,000 for MD's killing.  If the death looked like a suicide, Leonard agreed to pay an additional $5,000.

At that point an undercover ATF agent was brought in, posing as RS' "contact" in the gang. During a phone conversation from the jail, Leonard told the agent that MD was a homebody and it was unlikely anyone else would be at home, saying, "there won't be nobody showing up or nothing." 

Leonard refused to discuss payment, saying that the phone was bugged. He also told the agent that he wanted the killing done "yesterday" and that he didn't want a souvenir from the scene, saying, "Yeah, I don't need it. Reading it in the paper will be enough."

"Prior to the killing of "MD", the hit man should force "MD" to call 911 and state that he had lied about the information provided about the explosion case," Curry said.

Leonard sounded convinced that once MD was dead, he would be released from jail quickly.

In a second conversation, Leonard told the agent he wanted to make MD's death look like a suicide, and that the purported "killer" should force MD to call 911.

"I want him to say, 'I did not mean to frame Mark and Moncie for their own house in Richmond Hills,'" Leonard told the agent. If that were to happen, Leonard said, "They'll have me out of here within a couple of days, I bet."

At the end of the conversation, the agent said that the murder would be carried out, and Leonard affirmed that.

See related stories here.

Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard and his brother Bob Leonard have been charged in the Nov. 10th explosion that killed Dion and Jennifer Longworth.

All three defendants face murder, arson and conspiracy charges. Shirley also is charged with insurance fraud. Over 30 homes had to be demolished after the blast, and dozens of other homes had damage.

Last month it was determined that their trial would be delayed, possibly into 2014.

Each defendant now faces at least 50 counts of criminal charges. New charges were brought against them last month.

Investigators claim Monserrate Shirley tried to quickly cash in on the explosion, filing an insurance claim two days after her home and dozens of others were destroyed.

Shirley is now accused of 52 counts of fraud, conspiracy, arson and murder. Her boyfriend Mark Leonard faces 51 almost identical criminal charges and his brother, Bob Leonard, faces 50 charges.

Last month, Criminal Court Judge Sheila Carlisle granted defense attorneys' requests to postpone the trial. Prosecutors didn't object. There is a tremendous amount of evidence to review before trial.

The November 10th explosion destroyed or seriously damaged dozens of homes in the Richmond Hill subdivision. Dion and Jennifer Longworth perished in the spreading fire.

Investigators claim the three suspects rigged the home to fill with natural gas and blow up, intending to collect hundreds of thousand of dollars from the insurance company.

Defense attorneys have indicated they may request their clients receive separate trials, something prosecutors oppose.

The original trial was scheduled for early March. An April hearing will determine a new trial date.