Life without parole affirmed for second brother in Richmond Hill explosion

A man convicted as one of the masterminds of a deadly conspiracy to blow up a home on the south side of Indianapolis and collect the insurance money will spend the rest of his life in prison after the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed his murder convictions and the constitutionality of Indiana’s life without parole statute.

That decision, handed down Thursday in the case of Bob Leonard v. State of Indiana, 02S00-1604-LW-185, sends Bob Leonard to the same fate as his half-brother, Mark, whose life sentence was also affirmed in May for his role in the November 2012 Richmond Hill neighborhood home explosion. The Thursday opinion also marks the first time Justice Christopher Goff, who was sworn in July 24, has been listed as a participating justice in a Supreme Court decision.

The Leonard brothers were convicted on a slew of charges, including knowing murder, arson and conspiracy to commit arson, among others, after they carried out a plan to create a natural gas explosion at the home of Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard’s girlfriend. The plan was designed to destroy the home and receive $300,000 in insurance proceeds. But in addition to destroying Shirley’s home, the conspiracy also damaged dozens of other homes and killed two neighbors, Dion and Jennifer Longworth.

Prior to the explosion, Shirley and Mark Leonard, who lived in the home, booked a room at a hotel and found alternative housing for Shirley’s daughter and cat. The couple, along with Bob Leonard and their friend Gary Thompson, attempted to execute their scheme on multiple occasions, but did not succeed until their third try. The half-brothers also arranged a deal in which Bob Leonard would receive $10,000 of insurance proceeds.

After the second attempt to destroy the home failed, the brothers began conducting researching, which included Bob Leonard meeting with an employee of Citizens Gas Co. to learn about how much gas it would take to fill up a house. Additionally, Mark Leonard and Shirley gave Bob Leonard money to buy the items needed to set the fire.

After the explosion and the Longworths’ deaths, extensive media coverage forced a change of venue to Allen County for the brothers’ trials. The state sought sentences for life without parole, to which both Leonard brothers were sentenced, plus additional terms of years.

Bob Leonard appealed, and the case was sent directly to the Indiana Supreme Court pursuant to Appellate Rule 9(A)(1)(a). He argued there was insufficient evidence to support his murder convictions and one of the statutory aggravators found against him. He also appealed the trial court’s refusal of his tendered, lesser-included reckless homicide instruction and challenged the constitutionality of the state’s LWOP statute.

Specifically, Leonard argued he was not aware with a high probability that someone outside of Shirley’s home would be killed in light of the explosion, thus undercutting his knowing murder convictions. But in the Thursday opinion, Justice Mark Massa wrote that with each subsequent attempt to destroy the home, Leonard became more knowledgeable about the steps to cause and effects of a natural gas explosion.

Further, Leonard had previously visited Shirley’s home and knew the neighbors’ houses were near to each other, Massa said. Additionally, as the court noted in Mark Leonard’s case, Massa said “the mixture of natural gas with oxygen paired with an ignition source” – here, gasoline – “‘is readily capable of causing serious bodily injury.’”

Leonard further challenged one of the three aggravating circumstances that led to his LWOP sentence, namely the aggravator under Indiana Code 35-50-2-9(b)(11), which alleged he “’burned (or) mutilated’ John Longworth while he was alive.’” He cited to Nicholson v. State, 768 N.E.2d 443 (Ind. 2002), which he claimed supported his argument that intentionality is a required part of subsection (b)(11), but the high court rejected that argument.

The high court also rejected the argument that the trial court erred by refusing Leonard’s lesser-included reckless homicide jury instruction, finding that no serious evidentiary dispute existed as to whether he acted knowingly or recklessly. Finally, as in Mark Leonard’s case, the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of Indiana’s LWOP statute, rejecting the argument that the statute is unconstitutional because it does not require a jury to find aggravating circumstances that outweigh mitigators.

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