A Marion County judge entered not guilty pleas for Monserrate Shirley, her boyfriend Mark Leonard, and his brother, Bob Leonard at their initial hearing. They are charged with murder, arson and other counts in the Nov. 10 blast.
Prosecutors allege the three, who appeared in court in orange jail jumpsuits and handcuffs, rigged the massive gas blast at Shirley’s house so they could collect a big insurance payout.
Shirley, 47, was facing mounting financial woes, including $63,000 in credit card debt and bankruptcy proceedings, court documents say. And a friend of Mark Leonard’s told investigators that Leonard said he had lost about $10,000 at a casino some three weeks before the explosion. A probable cause affidavit says Shirley filed for bankruptcy this year but stopped making her court-arranged payments. The home’s original loan was for $116,000 and a second mortgage was taken out on the home for $65,000, the affidavit says.
Mark Leonard told the judge that he couldn’t pay for an attorney because all his cash was inside Shirley’s house when it blew up, leaving him with about $500 in a checking account.
“All my money, all of it, it’s gone,” he said. “I had money in the house and it’s not there anymore.”
The judge appointed public defenders for the Leonards.
Randall Cable, Shirley’s attorney, didn’t address the charges at the hearing Monday and didn’t speak with reporters afterward.
The fiery blast destroyed five homes, including Shirley’s, and damaged dozens of others in the Richmond Hill subdivision in the far south side of the city. The explosion killed Shirley’s next-door neighbors, John Dion Longworth, a 34-year-old electronics expert, and his 36-year-old wife, second-grade teacher Jennifer Longworth.
Several of Shirley’s neighbors and relatives of the Longworths were among about 25 members of the public who attended the hearing.
Pam Mosser of Muncie, a psychiatric nurse and Dion Longworth’s aunt, said she attended the hearing after working a 16-hour shift at a hospital.
“Spending Christmas Eve making sure justice is done,” Mosser said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Shirley and the Leonard brothers face two counts of murder as well as 33 counts of arson — one count for each of the homes damaged so badly that officials have ordered their demolition.
Shirley and Mark Leonard, 43, also face two counts of conspiracy to commit arson, while Bob Leonard, 54, faces a single count. The conspiracy charges stem from a failed explosion that prosecutors claim the trio had attempted the weekend before the successful timed blast.
Investigators believe the suspects removed a gas fireplace valve and a gas line regulator in Shirley’s house that subsequently filled up with gas. They have said a microwave, apparently set to start on a timer, sparked the explosion.