Senior staff writer
The trial of Mark Leonard, the alleged mastermind of a Richmond Hill home explosion, is in the middle of its third week at a South Bend court.
Testimony from witnesses from the prosecution has taken jurors from the devastating effect throughout the neighborhood, where two neighbors were killed and nearly 80 homes were destroyed or damaged, to inside of Monserrate Shirley’s home, where the physical evidence points to a deliberate explosion.
Leonard is on trial for his role in a plot to blow up the house of girlfriend Shirley at 8349 Fieldfare Way on the Southeastside in an insurance scheme to collect $300,000. He faces 53 felony charges, including murder and arson.
Next-door neighbors Jennifer and John Dion Longworth died from the blast, which shook the Southside at 11 p.m., Nov. 10, 2012. She was a school teacher at Southwest Elementary in Greenwood.
Shirley’s ex-husband, John Shirley, was among witnesses who testified June 18 in front of St. Joseph Superior Court Judge John Marnocha.
Mr. Shirley testified that he talked to Mrs. Shirley after the explosion and received a text from his daughter, who thought it was a plane crash. Mrs. Shirley was awarded the house during divorce proceedings in 2011.
Mr. Shirley testified that his ex-wife cryingly said, “It was our house. It exploded.”
He also asked about a cat, Snowball, which was adored by his daughter and was being boarded.
“I thought that was odd,” he testified,
The cat and several valuable possessions were removed from the home before the blast.
Mr. Shirley made a drawing for investigators of the gas lines for the furnace, water heater and fireplace and where the missing regulator should have been. That evidence, prosecutors contend, shows the regulator was removed from the line to allow the home to fill with natural gas prior to an intentional explosion.
Last week jurors heard Citizens Energy Vice President of Energy Operations Christopher Braum testify that “a much higher than usual gas usage” was registered on the meter. The excess consumption had the explosive power of 5,400 to 8,200 pounds of TNT, he testified.
Jurors also were shown photos of a pipe with a missing regulator, a microwave oven that appeared as if it had exploded and a damaged aluminum bottle that appeared to have been blown open.
Indianapolis Fire Department Lt. Mario Garza, who led crews in collecting evidence, testified that all valves were in the on position at the time of the explosion.
Mrs. Shirley and Leonard’s half brother, Robert Leonard, also face multiple charges, including murder, with lesser charges against alleged accomplices Gary Thompson and Glenn Hults. Mrs. Shirley has pleaded guilty and is expected to testify.