Three charged in Indianapolis explosion - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Three charged in Indianapolis explosion

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(From left) Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard, Bob Leonard Jr. (From left) Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard, Bob Leonard Jr.
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry
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INDIANAPOLIS -

Three people have been charged in connection with the Nov. 10th Indianapolis south side explosion.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said Mark Leonard and Monserrate Shirley, the couple who lived in one of the homes that exploded, along with Bob Leonard, Jr., were charged and arrested.

See the probable cause affidavit here.

Prosecutors allege that the trio concocted a scheme to destroy the house in order to collect the insurance payout. Court documents paint a picture of a couple facing a large gambling debt and taking out additional insurance on their homeowner's policy.

The explosion at Shirley's residence, 8349 Fieldfare Way, ignited a fire at the home of next-door neighbors John and Jennifer Longworth, causing their deaths.

They are each charged with the following:

• Felony Murder (two counts)
• Conspiracy to Commit Arson, Class A Felony (one count)
• Arson, Class A Felony (12 counts)
• Arson, Class B Felony (33 counts)

Curry spoke at a news conference Friday morning.

"We have to acknowledge that we are unable to alleviate the pain and anguish of such innocent victims and their families," he said. But he added that prosecutors must "devote our best efforts to see that justice is done on behalf of such innocent victims."

"I would say pray for all these victims, these young victims. Pray they would have peace this holiday season," said Troy Riggs, public safety director.

Microwave oven was point of ignition

Investigators say the microwave oven exploded from the inside out, and determined that the oven was the point of ignition. That model of microwave oven can be set on a timer 24 hours in advance, Curry said.

There were no leaks in the gas lines, and an examination of the gas meter at the house found that there was a large volume of gas entering into the home six to nine hours prior to the explosion.

Curry explained that the main gas line into the house led to a manifold which requires a step-down regulator that acts to reduce the flow of gas into appliances and the fireplace.

"The investigators determined early on that the regulator had been removed in this house," Curry said.

He also said the on-off gas valve to the fireplace was missing. Without the valve being in place, Curry said, investigators determined it would take six to nine hours for the house to fill with gas and reach a level of combustibility that could lead to an explosion.

Curry said that the time frame of six to nine hours was consistent with the gas flow reflected by the meter reading.

"It would thus be the investigators' opinion that the flow of gas at that volume would have occurred beginning at mid- to late afternoon to reach the volume necessary to create the explosion that occurred at approximately 11:00 pm," he said.

New allegations

Curry said Mark Leonard had attempted to blow up the house the weekend prior to the Nov. 10th explosion.

That was based on statements from an acquaintance of Mark Leonard who told investigators that Leonard said during a Nov. 2 phone call, "The house blew up, the jewelry is insured in the house and we're gonna recover $300,000 in insurance" and Mr. Leonard would receive $100,000 of that insurance.

Curry said steps taken by Shirley and Leonard on the weekend of Nov. 2 were identical to what they did prior to the Nov. 10th explosion.

That included boarding the cat, leaving Shirley's daughter with the same babysitter and the couple went to a casino and stayed away overnight.

The personal property insurance on the residence had been increased to a little over $300,000, Curry said.

Defense attorney says clients are innocent

Despite the couple's arrests, their attorney insists the two had nothing to do with their home blowing up.

"I hope to get access to Monserrate and Mark and talk to them about what things are and where we are going in the future," said Randall Cable, defense attorney.

After an intense 41-day investigation, prosecutors not only blame the couple but also Robert Leonard Jr., Mark's brother.

After watching the prosecutor lay out the deadly explosion plot during Friday's news conference, Cable says he is still in the dark.

"I have not received a copy of the charges, or the probable cause. I just listened to him as he enumerated those things," said Cable.

Cable wants prosecutors to look at John Shirley, Monserrate's ex-husband, who talked to us via telephone about the arrests and their 13-year-old daughter.

"Trying to call me a suspect in all of this, which if something like this was going to happen, where was our daughter going to go?" John Shirley said.

Meantime, Cable said, "Some things are taken out of context."

Thermostat changed

The investigation found that Leonard changed the thermostat in the home from a digital model to a slide switch model, something that could create a spark when activated.

The Leonards, who are brothers, stated that they'd last seen each other on the Tuesday before the explosion. But Curry said surveillance video at two different businesses that Mark and Bob Leonard were together on the Thursday and Friday before the blast.

Citizens Energy - gas questions

On Nov. 9, the Leonards are alleged to have spoken with a Citizens Energy employee and asked various questions regarding gas, including questions about the differences between propane and natural gas, the role of the regulator in a house, and controlling the flow of natural gas, including how much gas it would take to fill a house.

The investigation found that Shirley and Leonard did go to the Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg the night before the explosion. They stayed there until they were notified of the explosion Saturday night, which occurred around 11:00 pm.

White van

A resident of Richmond Hill reported a white van pulling into the driveway of Shirley's home on the afternoon of the explosion. Prosecutors believes that white van belongs to Mark Leonard. Two men hurried into the home, then left quickly. One of those men looked like Bob Leonard, Jr., according to witnesses.

Curry says investigators are still looking into any further individuals who might be involved.

Mark Leonard's nephew - Bob Leonard's son - says he got a call from his father who asked him to retrieve several items from a white van parked at Leonard's residence, including a large tote bag and several boxes. Bob Leonard allegedly told his son the items were salvaged from the fire at the home.

"That's, of course, impossible, because everything in the house was destroyed," said Curry, "And no one was allowed access to the property after the explosion."

The nephew said there were photos and personal financial documents belonging to Shirley and Leonard. He stored them at his home, but after an argument with his girlfriend, he left the apartment. Bob Leonard later turned up to collect the items.

Victim impact

The explosion killed Jennifer and John Longworth, who lived next door to the house believed to be the epicenter of the blast.

About 90 homes in the subdivision were damaged, costing an estimated $4.4 million.

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