A man accused of plotting a deadly explosion that damaged or destroyed more than 80 homes in an Indianapolis neighborhood should have known the scheme could kill people, even if that wasn’t his intent, a prosecutor told jurors Monday as the murder trial began.
Mark Leonard, 46, is charged in the Nov. 10, 2012, blast that killed 36-year-old Jennifer Longworth, a second-grade teacher, and her 34-year-old husband, John Dion Longworth, a product developer for a consumer electronics company. Leonard also is charged with 46 counts of arson, two counts of conspiracy to commit arson and one count of conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.
During her opening statement, Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson said she isn’t going to argue Leonard intentionally killed the Longworths, who lived next-door to Leonard’s then-girlfriend Monserrate Shirley. But Robinson said Leonard should have known deaths were possible when he planned to use natural gas to blow up Shirley’s house, saying the blast was felt in Johnson and Shelby counties.
Leonard’s public defender, Diane Black, said her client only intended to start a small fire.
“This was a stupid and selfish insurance fraud that went horribly wrong,” Black said.
It took St. Joseph Superior Court Judge John Marnocha 25 minutes to read the charges against Leonard in a videotaped reading played on a TV in the courtroom.
Robinson told the jurors they will hear from many people who lived in the Richmond Hill neighborhood on the city’s south side and the impact the explosion had on them, saying nearly every house in the neighborhood sustained damage.
“This was not a gas leak. This was not an accident. This was a substantial act,” Robinson said. She added: “This wasn’t a house that exploded. This was much more than that.”
She said the group was motivated by a desire to collect $300,000 on an insurance policy for the contents of the house.
“This is about greed. This is about money. This is about wanting to get that money,” Robinson said.
Black said it was supposed to be just a house explosion and told the jury to consider not just the results of what happened, but who is responsible for what happened. She said the results of the explosion are “obvious and tragic” and that children who live in the neighborhood can’t sleep well at night and the neighborhood will never be the same.
“It’s going to cry out to you to mete out the strongest punishment you could based on the results,” Black said. “But what we must look to, what we’re going to struggle with, is the responsibility.”
Black said some of the responsibility goes to Shirley, who reached a plea agreement with prosecutors in January. She agreed to plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit arson in exchange for her agreeing to testify against Leonard and the others charged in the explosion.
Black said Shirley didn’t say a word about Leonard being the person behind the plot until she struck a plea deal.
“She was desperate and this is how she dealt with it,” Back said.
David Shircliff, another attorney for Leonard, told potential jurors during the selection process Leonard would not testify during the trial.
The trial was moved to St. Joseph County, about 140 miles north of Indianapolis, because of widespread media coverage of the case in central Indiana. The trial is expected to last four to six weeks with about 175 witnesses expected to be called.
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