Life sentence ordered in deadly Indianapolis house blast

The man convicted of planning a massive Indianapolis house explosion that killed two neighbors was sentenced Friday to life without parole.

A judge in South Bend ordered the sentence for 46-year-old Mark Leonard, saying he was the main person behind the November 2012 blast that killed the couple and destroyed or damaged more than 80 homes.

“I do think he was the prime mover of these events,” St. Joseph Superior Court Judge John Marnocha said. “He orchestrated them.”

Marnocha said Leonard turned the house into a bomb in what prosecutors described as a plot to trigger a natural gas explosion at his then-girlfriend's home to collect $300,000 from insurance.

A jury convicted Leonard on July 14 of murder, arson and conspiracy charges after his trial in South Bend, where it was moved because of extensive news coverage in Indianapolis. The explosion killed 34-year-old John “Dion” Longworth and his 36-year-old wife, Jennifer.

Leonard declined to speak during Friday’s hearing as he plans to appeal his conviction. Defense attorney Diane Black expressed remorse to relatives of the Longworths and neighborhood residents, but maintained Leonard wasn't the ringleader.

“He was not the one who set the plan in motion,” she said.

Relatives of the Longworths and some neighborhood residents were testifying after the judge announced his decision so their views on Leonard's sentence were in the court record in case his appeal is successful.

Homeowner Monserrate Shirley has pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges as part of a plea agreement. Leonard's half brother and two others are awaiting trial.

Marnocha determined Leonard was eligible for the life sentence because of factors that included the use of an explosive device, the multiple deaths and the fact that Dion Longworth burned to death.

The coroner said Jennifer Longworth was killed instantly in the blast.

Prosecutors alleged Leonard was the mastermind, plotting with his then-live-in girlfriend Shirley and his half brother Bob Leonard to use natural gas and gasoline to blow up the home.

Shirley, who testified against her former boyfriend, faces a possible sentence of 20 to 50 years in prison. Bob Leonard is scheduled to stand trial in Fort Wayne on Jan. 19 on the same charges his brother faced.

Black has argued that life without parole for Leonard didn’t measure up against the sentence Shirley is expected to receive. Black says Shirley was just as involved, but prosecutors portrayed her as a victim unable to make a decision.

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