Indianapolis man found guilty in house explosion

Tribune staff and wire reports

FORT WAYNE — An Indianapolis man was convicted of murder, arson and insurance fraud Wednesday for his role in a 2012 house explosion that killed two neighbors and devastated a subdivision on the southside.

Jurors convicted Bob Leonard, 57, on all of the 51 counts he was facing. Prosecutors said surveillance video, witness testimony and DNA evidence proved he was involved in the plot with his half brother and others to use natural gas and a microwave to blow up the house for $300,000 in insurance.

He could face a life sentence without parole.

John Longworth, whose son Dion and daughter-in-law Jennifer lived next door and were killed in the explosion, said the verdict was a relief but “there’s nothing for us to be happy about. It’s all sad.” Still, he said he was pleased Leonard wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone else.

“It closes one more piece in the tragedy. It helps with putting the nightmare behind us some,” he said at the courthouse moments after the verdict was announced.

Jennifer Longworth was a school teacher at Southwest Elementary in Greenwood. The couple lived in the neighborhood just north of County Line Road.

“Today’s verdict represents the third step in a long journey for the families of Dion and Jennifer Longworth and for the victims and neighbors of Richmond Hill,” Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said in a news release. “More than three years have passed since the night that this senseless, criminal act devastated the lives and destroyed the homes of many. We will continue to pursue our pledge to bring justice for the residents of Richmond Hill as the final pending cases are prosecuted.”

The verdict came seven months after Leonard’s half brother, Mark Leonard, was convicted of being the mastermind behind the Nov. 10, 2012, explosion that also damaged or destroyed more than 80 homes. He was sentenced in August to two life sentences, along with 75 years in prison.

The home was owned by Mark Leonard’s girlfriend at the time, Monserrate Shirley, who testified earlier this month that Bob Leonard was brought into the plot after a first attempt to burn down her house failed in October 2012. Prosecutors allege the suspects planned to destroy the house by filling it with natural gas. A microwave apparently set to start on a timer sparked the blast.

The explosion destroyed the home and the Longworth’s house next door. Shirley told jurors that when she asked Bob Leonard about the explosion that killed her next-door neighbors, he replied: “Oh well, they died. You were in it. You talk, we talk.”

Prosecutors presented 16 days of testimony during Bob Leonard’s more than month-long trial in Fort Wayne, where the trial was moved because of high publicity of the case in Indianapolis. Mark Leonard’s trial was conducted in South Bend.

Bob Leonard didn’t testify in his defense, and his attorneys called just two witnesses who were on the stand for about a half hour. Jurors began deliberating Tuesday.

Shirley, who testified against both men, has pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges. She faces a 20 years to 50 years in prison when sentenced. Her cooperation also led to charges against two alleged co-conspirators, Glenn Hults and Gary Thompson, who face a joint June trial. Thompson faces two counts of murder and 47 arson-related counts, while Hults faces a charge of conspiracy to commit arson.

John Longworth said he was looking forward to the final trial in the case.

“They’ve really hurt our family,” he said. “It’s easier now to think of Dion and Jennifer and smile sometimes because you remember something that they did. At family gatherings, we’ll talk about things that they did and laugh.”

Allen Superior Judge Frances Gull conducted a hearing Wednesday shortly after the jury returned a guilty verdict, and ruled all the aggravating factors were present for a sentence of life without parole.

She set a sentencing date of March 18.