Southsider Voice correspondent
The wheels of justice are inching slowly ahead in the court cases against two of the four suspects accused of murder and arson in the November 2012 house explosion in the Richmond Hill subdivision.
The fourth suspect, Gary Thompson, was arrested Jan. 28. He pleaded not guilty in Marion County Superior Court on two counts of murder, 34 of counts of arson, 12 counts of arson resulting in bodily injury and one count of conspiracy to commit arson. He is being held without bond in the Marion County Jail.
According to prosecutors, Thompson was acquainted with Mark Leonard, who is awaiting trial on two charges of murder among numerous arson charges.
Thompson said Leonard offered him $5,000 to intentionally burn down the house but backed out of the plan when Leonard and then-girlfriend Monserrate Shirley were away for the weekend of Oct. 27, 2012.
It was the first of three alleged attempts by half brothers Mark and Bob Leonard to destroy Shirley’s home and allegedly collect insurance money.
Thompson told prosecutors that he later helped to reinstall a digital thermostat and seal the fireplace with cardboard pieces. The second attempt to destroy the home Nov. 3 also failed.
The third attempt on Nov. 10 resulted in a massive natural gas explosion that killed neighbors Jennifer and John “Dion” Longworth, injured 13 residents, destroyed 30 homes and damaged 50 more in the subdivision east of Sherman Drive and north of Smock Golf Course.
The Longworths lived next door to the Shirley home in the 8300 block of Fieldware Way. She had taught for 12 years at Greenwood Southwest Elementary in Greenwood, where the media center has been named in her honor.
After a plea agreement, charges against Shirley were reduced Jan. 20 to two counts of conspiracy to commit arson. She is cooperating with prosecutors and provided them with information that led to charges against Thompson.
Jury trials for the half brothers have been moved from Marion County.
Bob Leonard’s trial also is set for June in Fort Wayne after a change of venue was granted. He was transferred from Marion County to the custody of the Allen County sheriff.
Denise Robinson, Marion County deputy prosecutor, expressed her concern about the frustration of Richmond Hill residents over the trial delays.
“The victims deserve their day in court,” she said in a Fox ,59 interview. “They have expressed frustration with the delay and I understand their frustration with it.”
Prosecutors previously had sought to try three cases (Shirley and the Leonard brothers) at the same time to expedite procedures and to save costs.
The trial of Mark Leonard is to begin June 4 in St. Joseph County Superior Court.
Defense attorneys also presented an oral argument on behalf of Mark Leonard that the trial be broken into two parts: scientific evidence excluding Shirley’s testimony and circumstantial evidence. The Feb. 6 hearing was the first time he had been in court since Shirley pleaded guilty to two counts.