Fourth Richmond Hill suspect in court Friday

Gary Thompson
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Prosecutors filed formal charges Thursday against a fourth suspect in the south side explosion case. His first hearing began at 9 a.m. Friday.

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Police arrested 44-year-old Gary Thompson Wednesday.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said at a Thursday news conference that Thompson was involved with taking on and off the thermostat in the plan to blow up the Richmond Hill home in November 2012.

Police say Leonard asked Thompson if the cheap thermostat would spark when it comes on and Thompson advised him none of the newer thermostats would spark. However, a cheaper, non-digital thermostat would spark. Investigators determined that the spark that led to the explosion likely came from a microwave or thermostat.

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The break in the case may have come when one of the other three suspects agreed to help prosecutors.

Monserrate Shirley agreed to plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy and testify against Mark and Bob Leonard. Now, she may testify against Gary Thompson, too.

"Pinpointing the information that led to these charges originated with Ms. Shirley," Curry said.

Thompson told authorities he worked for Mark Leonard for several years and that Mark talked about using natural gas to ignite the home.
Thompson also said that Mark offered him $5,000 to pour six cans of gas in home in Oct. 2012, and he planned to burn the home the weekend of Oct. 27 but was stopped by a police officer on way to home.

News of a possible fourth suspect traveled fast in Richmond Hill Wednesday. Homeowner Doug Aldridge started getting notifications on his phone.

"I got one after another after another," Aldridge said. "I actually jumped out of my chair. I was sitting at my desk. I said, 'They made an arrest.' Then, of course, we're all wondering who this person is."

They'd learned a fourth suspect was facing charges in the explosion that killed two of their neighbors and damaged dozens of homes. Police arrested Thompson more than two years after the deadly blast.

"Oh, I'd have been looking over my shoulder for two years if I was that person," Aldridge said.

Neighbors knew there was a potential fourth person out there. Police had said that was a possibility, too.

In her plea agreement, Shirley described how she and her boyfriend Mark Leonard and his brother Bob Leonard conspired to blow up her home for insurance money.

She said another "unnamed" accomplice helped in the crime. Shirley said that person helped with two failed attempts before the third, fatal blast.

According to her statement, Bob Leonard and the uncharged individual "completed the overt act of tampering with the natural gas line".

"Finding out another attempt had been tried prior to the two that we'd already known about, I think it makes the people in here mad," Aldridge said. "I know it made me mad that so many attempts had been tried prior to that."

Thompson does have a criminal past, but they were low-level crimes: an OWI, driving while suspended and being a habitual traffic offender. Now, prosecutors plan formal charges in a much more brutal case.

Aldridge says his arrest brings relief for those who live in Richmond Hill.

"The wheels of justice turn a little slow, but now they're gaining momentum," Aldridge said. "Every night that we move forward, we're feel better in here and we'll feel a lot better tonight."

"In any given case, we are equally frustrated with the time that's required, but that's just the nature of the criminal justice system. That's something we have to live and deal with and we understand their frustration," Curry said.

In Richmond Hill, two lives were lost, dozens of homes destroyed with millions of dollars in damage and countless lives changed forever.

"This one case really stuck in our minds and our hearts for a long time. We're talking about families. We're talking about a whole community that was impacted," said IMPD Chief Rick Hite. "And yes, we will continue to bring people like this to justice."

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