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Justices consider life without parole sentence in Richmond Hill appeal

February 16, 2017

As the Indiana judicial system enters its fifth year of prosecuting individuals involved in the deadly 2012 Richmond Hill home explosion in Indianapolis that killed two and damaged dozens of homes, one of the leading culprits is asking the Indiana Supreme Court to reconsider his sentence for his role in the deaths.

The high court heard arguments Thursday morning in the case of Bob Leonard v. State of Indiana, 02S00-1604-LW-00185. As with the case of his half-brother, Mark Leonard, Bob Leonard’s life without parole sentenced bypassed the Indiana Court of Appeals and went straight to the Supreme Court justices for appellate review.

The appellant’s oral arguments focused on Leonard’s conviction of knowing murder — which accompanied convictions for felony murder, arson and a slew of other charges — and whether the Allen Superior Court should have also instructed the jury on a reckless homicide charge. According to Andrew Borland, Leonard’s counsel, there was a serious evidentiary dispute as to whether his client’s actions proved that he should have been charged with knowing murder rather than reckless homicide.

There is no doubt from the evidence that Leonard, with the help of his brother and Mark Leonard’s girlfriend, Monserrate Shirley, intended to set fire to Shirley’s home to collect on a $300,000 insurance policy, Borland said. That evidence lends itself to a 99 percent possibility that Leonard was guilty of reckless homicide, he said.

But conversely, the evidence only lends itself to roughly a 1 percent chance that Leonard was guilty of knowing murder because there is little to indicate that he intended his actions to result in the deaths of Shirley’s neighbors, Jennifer and Dion Longworth, Borland said. Instead, the evidence seems to suggest that Leonard’s actions were the result of an insurance fraud scheme gone incredibly wrong, not a deliberate murder attempt.

Deputy Attorney General Andrew Kobe, however, said the natural consequences of setting of a bomb, as he characterized the home explosion, of that magnitude is that someone would be killed, so the evidence does point toward a knowing murder conviction.

“Anytime you blow up a bomb in a neighborhood as densely packed and at a time when people are expected to be at home, it may not be that you were hoping to kill someone, but that’s now what the law requires,” Kobe told reporters after oral arguments on Thursday. “The law requires that you are aware of a high probability that that’s what’s going to happen, and when you blow up a bomb next to people, a high probability is that people are going to die.”

Borland, however, said while Leonard may have realized that there was a high probability that the house next door might have been damaged by his actions, there was less of a known probability that the neighbors would be harmed, let alone killed. But Kobe said it was only luck or providence that the explosion resulted in only two deaths and not more extensive bodily harm.

Justice Steve David asked Kobe if there was any evidence that suggested Leonard hadn’t meant to cause as much damage as he did. The deputy attorney general acknowledged that there was a discussion in the evidence of a “small fire,” but also said Leonard’s actions, such as removing the fireplace valve and setting the microwave to go off at a time when the house would be filled with gas, did not support the idea that he had only meant to ignite a “small fire.”

Further, Justice Mark Massa asked if the jury could have been instructed on reckless homicide if Leonard had taken the stand during trial and told jurors that he did not intend for his actions to be deadly, but Kobe also rejected that theory, saying Leonard’s purported desire not to kill anyone doesn’t mean he was not aware of the potential consequences.

But Borland pointed out that Leonard had tried once before to set fire to the home, and had failed at that attempt, so his ineptness should prove that he did not realize that there was a high probability of death.

If the Supreme Court finds that the trial court did abuse its discretion in not instructing the jury on reckless homicide, Kobe said the state will either retry the case with the reckless homicide charges or will let the existing charges stand. If the state chooses the latter, Kobe said Leonard would be resentenced on the felony murder charges, which were joined with the knowing murder charges, a change that could add up to 130 years to his existing 70-year sentence.

 

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