Richmond Hill explosion trial postponed

Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard and Bob Leonard
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The trial against the three suspects in the south side explosion is being delayed, possibly into next year.

Each of them now face at least 50 counts of criminal charges. They each were in court Wednesday for initial hearings on the new charges.

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.

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.

"Tens of thousands of pages. Boxes and boxes. A lot of boxes," said deputy prosecutor Denise Robinson.

Robinson expects the trial won't be held until early 2014.

The November 10 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 Wednesday advised the judge they may request their clients receive separate trials. It is a move prosecutors oppose.

"It lengthens the process, certainly," said Robinson. "It's bringing witnesses back, but legally speaking, there are issues both ways. We will be prepared to deal with them."

The three were scheduled to stand trial in just a few weeks. Now, a hearing is scheduled in April to set a new trial date.

It is a question of when, but also where, the trial will be held. Because of all the attention their clients are getting, defense attorneys could ask to move the trial to a distant county.

However right now, they want the judge to order the crime scene preserved, so their own investigators can examine the evidence. Several empty home lots are surrounded by a high chain link fence and residents who are cleaning up and rebuilding may have to put up with this ugly reminder of the tragedy for many more months.

Sheriff's deputies walked the suspects individually from court to back to their jail cells Wednesday. None of them talked about the hearing or the charges. When the case does go to trial, Marion County prosecutor Terry Curry says he will seek prison sentences of life with no chance of parole.