A mastermind of the deadly explosion in Indianapolis’ south side Richmond Hill neighborhood in November 2012 has once again lost an appeal of one of his many convictions, with the Indiana Court of Appeals on Thursday upholding his conviction of Class A felony conspiracy to commit murder.
After the natural gas home explosion, Mark Leonard, who lived in the home, became a person of interest. During a police investigation, officers spoke with his longtime friend, Mark Duckworth, who provided information about Leonard and his brother, Bob’s, elaborate plan to blow up Monserrate Shirley’s home and collect the insurance money. The scheme ultimately killed two people, Jennifer and Dion Longworth, and destroyed or damaged dozens of homes.
After his arrest in December 2012, Leonard was placed in Cellblock 4D of the Marion County Jail with Robert Smith, who had previously worked as a police informant. Smith sent an envelope to his contact at the Marion County Sheriff’s Department in March 2013 containing a letter and a map.
The letter stated that Leonard was willing to pay $15,000 for an “accident” to happen to Duckworth, while the map provided directions to Duckworth’s residence. Also at the end of the letter was a phrase, written in different handwriting, that said, “Agree payment 180 days upon release.”
Meanwhile, Special Agent Jeremy Godsave with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, posed as a hit man who was willing to attack Duckworth for Leonard. Jail phone calls between Leonard and “Jay,” Godsave’s false identity, were recorded, in which Leonard solicited Jay to carry out the murder and stage it as a suicide.
Leonard was eventually charged with numerous offenses related to the explosion, including the Class A felony conspiracy to commit murder offense at issue here. He moved to suppress the jail calls on constitutional grounds, but the trial court denied that request.
The phone calls, envelope and its contents were then admitted at trial over Leonard’s objection, though he did not timely object to the admission of the phone calls on state constitutional grounds. During his testimony, Duckworth identified the inconsistent handwriting in the letter and the handwriting on the map as Leonard’s.
After he was found guilty as charged, Leonard was sentenced to 55 years on the conspiracy charge. Additionally, he and his brother, Bob, are serving sentences of life without parole for other charges related to the explosion, including the knowing murder of the Longworths.
The appellate court upheld Leonard’s conspiracy conviction on Thursday in Mark Leonard v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1703-CR-443. May wrote that Leonard failed to demonstrate fundamental error in the admission of the phone calls. Specifically, May said the explosion case against Leonard was not inextricably intertwined with the murder-for-hire-case, so the right to counsel didn’t attach to the latter case.
Further, because the phone calls were properly admitted as evidence, any error in the admission of the letter was likewise harmless because the letter’s contents contained information discussed in the phone calls, May said. Thus, the letter was cumulative of other properly admitted evidence.
The Leonard brothers’ most serious convictions and LWOP sentences have also been upheld, with the Indiana Supreme Court affirming Mark Leonard’s LWOP sentence in May and Bob Leonard’s sentence in August.