Senior staff writer
Closure may never be complete in the aftermath of the tragic and deliberate house explosion in the Richmond Hill subdivision on Nov. 10, 2012.
Nevertheless, justice prevailed Aug. 14 in a South Bend courtroom, where Mark Leonard was sentenced to a double term of life in jail without parole, based on being found guilty of two counts of “knowing murder” by a jury July 14.
The terms are to be served consecutively because the massive explosion was triggered by an electronic device in the home of Monserrate Shirley at 8349 Fieldfare Way. The blast killed next-door neighbors John and Jennifer Longworth.
The explosion damaged 80 homes and caused an estimated $4 million in damage, according to authorities.
Leonard was described by prosecutors as the mastermind of the scheme to destroy the home to collect $300,000 in insurance.
Judge Marnocha also sentenced Leonard to 50 years for Class A felony arson and 20 years for Class B felony arson.
The deaths and use of an explosive device prompted Marnocha to consider and eventually impose the life sentence without parole.
After testimony from more than 150 witnesses, Leonard was found guilty by a jury of 53 counts on July 14. The jury agreed with the prosecuting team’s presentation that Leonard was the mastermind of an arson plot to destroy the home of Shirley, his girlfriend at the time.
Some residents testified of post-traumatic stress due to the tragedy. First responders also testified to the plight of John Longworth who was trapped in burning debris.
Jennifer Longworth was a teacher at Greenwood Southwest Elementary, where the media center is named in her memory.
Shirley, who testified against Leonard, 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.