An Indianapolis woman whose house exploded, killing two people, testified Wednesday during her former boyfriend’s trial in South Bend that he was determined to burn the home down for insurance money and became angry when the first two attempts failed.
Monserrate Shirley, 49, said she became distraught when neighbors telephoned her after the November 2012 explosion and told her she had no home to return to. She said she confronted defendant Mark Leonard, 46, who faces more than 50 counts, including two counts of murder, arson and insurance fraud.
“That’s not what you told me,” Shirley said she told Leonard about the alleged plan. “That cannot be real.”
“Don't worry about it,” she said he told her. “Everything’s under control.”
Prosecutors have said Leonard was the mastermind of the plot to burn the home to collect insurance money to pay off gambling debts and other expenses. Shirley has pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges and faces a possible sentence of 20 to 50 years in prison.
Shirley said she met Leonard at a bar about a year before the explosion and he moved in with her a short time later, soon asking her about how much insurance she had on the home. She testified he first discussed burning her home down in February 2012, then brought it up again in July and October. She rejected the idea as outlandish, but Leonard insisted.
“He never took no for an answer,” Shirley testified. “I was scared. ... I love him so much that I would do anything to make him happy.”
Shirley also said the defendant’s brother, alleged co-conspirator Bob Leonard, told her after the blast that it was too late to back out of the plot: “You're in it. You’re done,” she said he told her.
Shirley said Mark Leonard paid his brother $500 after the explosion for his participation in it, but Bob Leonard had wanted $1,200.
Prosecutors have said lines were rigged to fill the home with natural gas, which then exploded after a microwave programmed in advance turned on.
Shirley began crying when she was asked about her neighbors, Jennifer and John “Dion” Longworth, who died in the blast that also damaged or destroyed more than 80 homes.
“No one deserved what happened. No one,” Shirley said.
She also said they removed keepsakes from the home before the attempts to burn it, arranged for her daughter to stay elsewhere and even boarded a cat. After the first two attempts to burn it on Oct. 27 and Nov. 3, 2012, they returned home to find the house still standing, angering Leonard.
After Shirley’s testimony, Mark Leonard’s attorney, public defender David Shircliff, told reporters, “I don't think she’s very credible. She tells the truth as easy as she tells a lie.”
However, Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson said Shirley gave jurors the information they needed to hear, and it will be up to them to decide how to evaluate it.