Richmond Hill trial: "I thought something exploded in my house."

South Bend courthouse
As first responders testify at Richmond Hill trial, others not there can relate
As first responders testify at Richmond Hill trial, others not there can relate
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Follow this page for updates from South Bend, where the trial for Mark Leonard, one of five accused in the deadly 2012 Richmond Hill explosion, is underway.

Case background: Mark Leonard, 46, is on trial for his role as the alleged mastermind of a plot of blow up the house of his then-girlfriend, Monserrate Shirley, in order to collect $300,000 in insurance. Shirley will testify against him in exchange for a reduced sentence. Mark Leonard faces 46 counts of arson, two counts of conspiracy to commit arson and one count of conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. Leonard's half-brother Bob Leonard is also accused in the plot, along with two others.

See all stories, video and documents here.

Jennifer Longworth, 36, and her husband, John Dion Longworth, 34, died in the blast.

Friday

There will be no testimony Friday in the Mark Leonard Richmond Hill explosion trial. The trial resumes Monday.

Thursday trial recap

A map of the Richmond Hill neighborhood victims use to color in their home lot or jurors to see is slowly being covered in yellow.

The closer to the witnesses get to the actual explosion, the greater their losses and more emotional their testimony.

A homeowner living behind Monserette Shirley's house told jurors he and his wife woke up to drywall falling on them - they ran out. Chad Skelton said he and a neighbor tried to reach Dion Longworth trapped in his burning home.

"We got as close as we could. We knew we weren't going to be successful at saving him," he testified.

Dion and his wife Jennifer died in their collapsed and burning home.

Prosecutors brought more than 20 Richmond Hill homeowners to court, counting on their testimony to paint picture of the destruction. One, an Air Force veteran, said the explosion reminded him of a one-ton bomb going off.

More than 30 homes were destroyed and more than 70 damaged. Losses totaled $4 million.

Mark Leonard is the mastermind, investigators say, of a scheme to destroy Monserrate Shirley's home to collect the insurance money.

Days after the explosion, one victim had a chance encounter with Shirley and Leonard.

Elizabeth Kelley testified, "Shirley said, 'I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry!' I told her, 'You are a victim.' She said, 'All the neighbors are saying horrible things.'"

Defense attorneys are scrutinizing anything Shirley may have said or done to be used later to cast doubt on her expected testimony against Leonard.

More victims, Shirley's nearest neighbors, will testify Monday as prosecutors begin to zero in on her home and Mark Leonard.

June 11, 5:46 pm

Each victim is creating pictures with their words, telling jurors the explosion hit like an earthquake.

It reminded an Air Force vet of a 2,000-pound bomb going off.

Tony Quakenbush testified, "I thought something exploded in my house. It was so loud and so powerful."

He said damages totaled $285,000.

The blast wrecked Doris Jarnagn's home. It was among those that had to be torn down.

Remembering waking up that night, she testified. "I thought I was actually dreaming."

Richmond Hill residents are reliving their nightmare as prosecutors attempt to give jurors an understanding of the destruction.

It takes about ten minutes for each resident to explain what they felt and feared.

Carla Wilson told them, "At first I thought, is this the end of the world?"

The testimony of dozens of witnesses makes it sound as if the world came crashing down on the Richmond Hill subdivision the night of November 10, 2012.

Co-conspirator Monserrate Shirley is expect to testify against Mark Leonard. Defense attorneys are laying the groundwork to challenge her credibility .under cross examination, asking what, if anything, victims saw or heard from their neighbor after the explosion.

June 11, 12:27 pm


Richmond Hill resident Ben Melvin had just finished remodeling his home the day of the explosion. He was home with his wife, son and daughter. The blast caused extensive damage, forcing them out of their home for six months.

"The whole house rolled. I was lying in bed. The next thing I knew I was lying on the floor," he said.

Melvin likened the experience to being in a cardboard box that someone tipped over.

"It was like chaos. I just didn't believe what I was looking at," he said.

Before rescuers arrived, Melvin Ran to the explosion and kicked open the door of the Olvey family's heavily damaged home.

Glenn Olvey was injured. One daughter escaped by jumping from the second floor window.

Afterwards he took pictures with his cell phone just after firefighters arrived.

The doors and windows were blown out in Melvin's house, and every dry wall seam was broken. The home had to be gutted and repairs took six months to fix. With insurance, it cost $85,000.

Brenda Mescall had a guest staying over on the night of the explosion. Her sister and father also live in Richmond Hill.

Mescall was in the living room when the front door blew open and things started flying.

"I thought poltergeist. It was crazy. I did not know what was going on," she testified.

In her pajamas, she took a bike to check on her 78-year-old father and her sister. She would end up carrying her bike home because she couldn't ride over all the firehoses.

Her father did not evacuate that night and she stayed with him.

"We had permission," she said defensively. Prosecutor Mark Hollingsworth replied, "You are not going to get in trouble." His response got some laughs from those in court.

Her home's doors and windows were blown in, bricks were pulled away and there was interior damage to the walls. She was out of her home for a few months.

See all stories, video and documents here.

Rachana Patel lived on Fairfield Way, the street where the explosion occurred. She was up the block and across the street.

Patel was in her living room and awake when the window broke and sent glass flying.

She "thought it was an earthquake."

Patel's home and foundation was so badly damaged that the house had to be torn down. She no longer lives in neighborhood .

Thursday
Jurors in the Mark Leonard Murder trial will continue to hear from people from the Richmond Hill neighborhood, Thursday, about what they saw and felt the night a massive explosion killed two people and destroyed or damaged dozens of homes.

Wednesday trial recap

Every person living in the Richmond Hill neighborhood has a story to tell about November 10, 2012. Two-and-a-half years later, in court, some of those stories are difficult to tell - and difficult to listen to.Shawn Looper, an IMPD detective, dad and homeowner, struggled through his testimony. After the explosion, he ran from his home, calling for help on his police radio. That recording was played for jurors.

"We got a man trapped in the back. He's screaming," Looper said on his radio.

That man was a firefighter, trying to pull Dion Longworth from his burning home.

"We need a hose to the rear or we are going to lose a fireman. Oh, God," Looper said.

That fireman waved to Looper for help, but he couldn't.

"Why not?" asked prosecutor Denise Robinson.

"Due to the intensity of the fire," Looper replied.

Dion Longworth and his wife, Jennifer, died.

Roughly 80 residents are expected to testify. Prosecutors will use their stories to show jurors the immensity of the crime. Two lives lost, 100 homes destroyed or damaged, leaving survivors to rebuild their lives.

The state needs to show there was this degree of devastation, that there was this degree of damage. The personal stories assist the jury in understanding that," Robinson said.

Some of the stories being told in court have never been told publicly or shared with other victims. Two-and-a-half years later, relatives of the Longworths and others are learning more about this crime.


June 10, 4:42 pm
The radio conversations played for jurors chronicled the initial confusion and panic, including fear of leaking gas and more explosions.

"We got fire coming every way," Looper radioed.

A fireman was trying to pull Dion free.

The Longworths perished in the fire. Mark Leonard is charged with their murders, and dozens of counts of arson and conspiracy. Investigators say he led the plan to burn down Monserrate Shirley's home to collect insurance money.

The explosion devastated the neighborhood, destroying or damaging more than 100 homes.

One after another, homeowners are telling their personal stories to the jury.

Several testified it felt like an earthquake, the loudest sound they've ever heard. One testified it almost threw him out of bed.

They describe doors and windows blown out, siding blown off - homes structurally broken and pushed from their foundations. And lives that took months to put back together.

June 10, 2:56 pm

Emotional testimony today from Richmond Hill residents. They described damage from the blast to their homes. Doors and windows were blown out; walls cracked, structural supports were broken and homes were knocked off their foundations.One resident described the emotional toll. A young son who struggled for months, slept only on the floor and became too scared to stay home alone. Cindy Hinds struggled on the witness stand, realizing as she looked around that night, "Oh God, this was horrible."

June 10, 11:56 am


Jurors continued to hear from witnesses in today's testimony.

Richmond Hill resident Pamela Brainerd testified that she'd dozed off watching the news on the night of November 10, 2012. And then:

"I thought someone hit my house with a car or someone was trying to break in."

She went outside and saw a "humongous" fire.

Her front door was blown off its hinges and windows were blown in, with pictures blown off the walls and her fireplace mantle pulled out.

Another resident, Theresa Carmichael, said she and her daughter were not home that night, but were staying a few blocks away when they heard the explosion.

Carmichael "immediately went into a panic. I went into a panic mode."

"My doors were blown open," she said, and inside, "everything was shattered."

All of her windows and doors were blown out, and there was extensive damage to the inside of her home. The repairs cost roughly $78,000.

David Clager said he'd dozed off, along with his wife and baby daughter.

He said his wife felt the whole house lift up and asked, "What the heck was that?"

Outside, he "heard crackling like a fireplace."

Amy Clark was at home with her son, and reported, "My house shook almost like an earthquake."

She thought her son had dropped a dresser.

"I looked out the front door it looked like it was snowing," she said.

Clark ran outside took cell phone video that showed burning homes amid the darkness.

In a recording played for jurors, Clark is heard saying, "it's so dark" then "My God, they can't get out."

"Look, look!" jurors heard on the recording. Panicked people yell "get back, get back!" Then her voice: "Oh, the gas lines," then her voice, "What? Who?"

Walt Colbert, another Richmond Hill resident, is a veteran who served in Afghanistan. He was at home with his wife, two daughters, his son and the family dog.

He reported hearing a "huge explosion and percussion."

Colbert didn't know where he was and flashed back to Afghanistan when the enemy attacked his base with 2,000-lb IEDs.

"The blast on November 10th reminded me of that," he said.

He evacuated with his wife, children, cell phone and dog.

Wednesday preview
When court convenes Wednesday, we expect more Richmond Hill residents to testify — one after another — how the massive explosion affected them, their homes and their lives

Tuesday trial recap

Eleven of the 17 witnesses who testified Tuesday lived or still live in Richmond Hill.After testifying, the residents use a highlighter to color in their lot on a map next to the witness stand. Jurors see a map slowly covered in yellow.

Prosecutors are trying to show the jury the size and the impact of the explosion. After the blast, Brian Baker testified, "People were kind of stunned, not knowing what to do, kinda like zombies."

Homeowner Frank Haitt remembered "a huge white flash, a massive, percussive boom" that took him off his feet.

"Houses that were shredded. It was silent. It kinda gave me the impression I was standing in death," Haitt testified.

Dion and Jennifer Longworth died when their home collapsed and caught fire. Firefighters fought back tears describing the effort to save them.

"My guys were as close as we could get. The heat backed them off. The fire marched across so fast," said Battalion Chief Mark Culver.

People miles away heard and felt the horrific blast. Hundreds dialed 911. Jurors heard a fraction of the calls.

"Whatever it was, it was huge," said one caller.

One hundred homes were destroyed or damaged, two lives lost, prosecutors say, because Mark Leonard and four accomplices tried to destroy Monserrate Shirley's home to collect the insurance money.

More Richmond Hill residents will testify Wednesday. Each takes about 10 minutes to describe the explosion, the damage, and the cost of a crime that occurred two-and-a-half years ago.

June 9, 3:20 pmThe explosion one Richmond Hill homeowner described for jurors was "a huge white flash, a massive percussive boom."

Frank Haitt ran to the scene.

"Houses that were shredded. It was silent. It kind of gave me the impression I was standing in death," he said.

Prosecutors are making a picture of words, photographs, and 911 calls hoping jurors understand the enormity and tragedy of the explosion.

They heard dozens of the 274 911 calls from people living in the neighborhood and miles away.

"Something hit my house really hard," one person reported to dispatchers that night. "A vehicle?" the operator asked. "I don't know," she replied.

A security company called saying it received a call from a man trapped in his basement and his wife was upstairs. No doubt it was from Dion Longworth. He and his wife Jennifer perished in the fire.

Seasoned Indianapolis firefighters Lt. Russell Futrell and Battalion Chief Mark Culver choked back tears while testifying. Futrell checked the Longworths' home and found no one. They had no reason to believe the couple was trapped.

Listening to recorded IFD radio transmissions, jurors heard firefighters desperate and tragically futile calls. "Give us water as fast as you can so we can get people out of the house."

June 9, 12:51 pm

Jurors were shown more than a dozen still photographs of the Richmond hill neighborhood, destroyed and in flames. But the most compelling pictures may have come from the words of the first firefighters to arrive.

IFD Lt. Russell Futrell felt the blast at his nearby firehouse. It "physically rocked the building; nothing like I've heard before,' he told jurors. Futrell called it the worst fire scene he's seen in 25 years on the department.

He struggled to compose himself describing the fate of Dion and Jennifer Longworth.

"I would have risked everything"

Futrell checked their burning, collapsing home. He says he saw and heard no one. Had he known they were trapped inside, "I would have risked everything to get in there.”

Battalion Chief Mark Culver described the subsequent effort to save the couple. Radio traffic played for jurors recorded the urgent pleas for a fire hose.

"Give me water as fast as you can," begged one officer.

Firefighters could see Dion trapped. Culver struggled as he told the jury, "My guys were as close as we could get. The heat backed them off. The fire marched across so fast."

Prosecutors are painting a vivid picture of the horrific explosion and aftermath.

As witnesses and relive the facts and emotions of that night, so are spectators in the courtroom - among them the family of Dion and Jennifer Longworth, many of them wearing yellow, the young couple's favorite color.

See all stories, video and documents here.