Senior staff writer
Sentencing of Mark Leonard, the convicted mastermind of the fatal explosion that destroyed or damaged 80 homes in the Richmond Hill subdivision in 2012, will be announced Aug. 14 by St. Joseph County Superior Judge John Marnocha.
Marnocha will decide if Leonard, who was convicted of 53 counts, including two counts of murder July 14, will receive life in prison without parole as requested by the prosecuting team led by Denise Robinson.
In less than three hours of deliberations, jurors agreed with Marion County prosecutors that Leonard was guilty of an insurance fraud scheme that resulted in an intentional natural gas explosion that not only destroyed ex-girlfriend Monserrate Shirley’s home at 8349 Fieldfare Way but also killed neighbors Dion and Jennifer Longworth. Mrs. Longworth was a teacher at Greenwood Southwest Elementary, where the media center is named in her memory.
Leonard was one of five suspects involved in the blast. Shirley, who testified against him, already had pled guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors. Leonard’s halfbrother, Bob, goes on trial in January in Fort Wayne; co-conspirators Gary Thompson and Glen Hults are awaiting trial.
Richmond Hill residents Cindy Maddox and Bryan Hollingsworth, who was one of the last persons to see Longworth alive, talked to reporters outside the courthouse following the verdict.
“We will never forget Jennifer and Dion, and that was the worst part of this whole tragedy, Maddox said. “We will never forget that evening.”
Hollingsworth talked with Longworth while he was trapped in a fiery inferno before firefighters arrived. They could not rescue him because of the intense fire in about 7 feet of rubble from the Longworth’s two-story home.
“This was an unnecessary, inappropriate and unneeded tragedy,” Hollingsworth said.
In a statement issued after the verdict, outgoing Public Safety Director Troy Riggs praised the efforts of Division of Homeland Security Chief Gary Coons, a former Perry Township trustee, who headed up all operations after the explosion.
“My heart and thoughts are with the Richmond Hill families as this has been a long path to holding someone accountable,” Coons stated. “I pray for the families of Dion and Jennifer Longworth and Richmond Hills residents.”
Defense attorneys filed a motion to have a sentence of life without parole dismissed. They also are expected to seek an appeal after requesting several motions for a mistrial during the trial.