Indiana Supreme Court to hear appeal of Richmond Hill explosion accomplice Bob Leonard

Indiana Supreme Court to hear appeal of south side explosion
Bob Leonard appeal
Bob Leonard appeal hearing

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Attorneys for one of the men at the center of the Richmond Hill neighborhood explosion will argue in court that their client should have his convictions overturned and not spend his life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Judges on the Indiana Supreme Court will hear Bob Leonard's appeal today. Leonard was convicted last February of murder, arson and conspiracy to commit arson and then sentenced to two terms of life without parole followed by 70 years.

Leonard appealed his case on four issues. He claims the state did not prove that he knowingly or intentionally hurt people, that the court should have giving jurors the option of reckless homicide, and that Indiana's sentencing rules for life without parole are unconstitutional.

Prosecutors say Leonard worked with his half-brother Mark Leonard and Mark's then-girlfriend, Monserrate Shirley, to burn her house as part of an insurance fraud plot in November 2012. The explosion created by natural gas and the spark from a microwave killed two people, injured dozens more and destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes in the south side neighborhood.

Two other men, Gary Thompson and Glenn Hults, accepted plea agreements for their roles in the explosion.

In the appeal, Leonard's attorneys portray their client and the other people convicted in the case as a "bumbling crew" that only wanted to burn a home for insurance money but did not even know how to do that properly.

Leonard's appeal claims prosecutors did not have the evidence to prove that Leonard knowingly killed neighbors Dion and Jennifer Longworth. Defense attorneys say there is no evidence that anyone involved knew the explosion would kill the Longworths. In fact, they write in the appeal, "Based on prior failed attempts, it is likely that none of those involved even thought they would succeed in burning the house, let alone blow up the neighborhood."

On the other hand, the state has argued that it was "highly probable" that Leonard should have known that immediate neighbors would be killed.

In another reason for the appeal, Leonard's attorneys argued that the court should not have allowed a particular aggravating circumstance to factor into the sentencing. They write, "There is no evidence Leonard personally, intentionally burned or mutilated John Longworth." The state says even if that issue was tossed out, the judge might still have ordered life without parole.

Leonard's attorneys also argue the trial court judge make a mistake by refusing to give jurors the option of reckless homicide. The state counters that there is no real question that Leonard acted recklessly and that defense attorneys did not appropriately create a case that allowed jurors to consider that option.

Finally, Leonard's attorneys also claims that Indiana's "sentencing scheme" for life without parole is unconstitutional because it does not require that aggravating and mitigating factors at sentencing be done beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, they say the sentence should be reversed.

The state says that this should not be an issue here. They say that because the judge did not find any mitigating factors here, he did not have to weigh the factors at all, so the issue of a proper method of weighing factors is not relevant in this case. The state also points out that many other criminal defendants have made the same argument and the Court has repeatedly said it is without merit.

At the oral arguments, each side will have 20 minutes to make its case. Leonard's attorneys will go first, followed by attorneys for the state.

Mark Leonard is also serving life without parole for his role in the explosion. The Court rejected his appeal earlier this year. Monserrate Shirley accepted a plea agreement and is serving 50 years. Gary Thompson pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit arson and was sentenced to 20 years. Glenn Hults reached a plea agreement for assisting a criminal and will serve a year-and-a-half behind bars before time in work release and then probation.