On Wednesday, a St. Joseph County Superior Court judge would consider if life imprisonment is the most suited punishment for an Indianapolis man who blew up his girlfriend house to collect insurance money.
The day before, a jury found Mark Leonard, 46, guilty of conspiracy to insurance fraud, murder, and arson after a 4-hour deliberation that stretched over the course of two days. In the explosion, two neighbors died, and 80 nearby houses were damaged.
Defense attorneys announced that they would seek to dismiss the life imprisonment without parole request made by the prosecution. Prosecutors requested life sentence because Leonard’s reckless behavior led to the deaths of John and Jennifer Longworth, a married couple living next door.
The man’s attorneys argued in a motion that prosecution cannot request the harsh sentence because there isn’t enough evidence to back the aggravating factors.
Leonard’s attorney John Shircliff said that there was no “legal basis” for the penalty.
But prosecutors said that they would make sure the man spends the rest of his life in prison regardless of judge John Marnocha’s ruling. Yet, Shircliff cited a series of ignored mistrial motions which he plans to later use in an appeal.
Prosecution reached the conclusion that Leonard was the one who came up with the idea of blowing his former girlfriend’s house in 2012, while then-girlfriend Monserrate Shirley and his brother were only accomplices. The idea was to blow up Ms. Shirley’s home and make it look like a gas-leak explosion to collect $447,000 in insurance.
The defendant’s brother Bob Leonard would go on trial in late January and face similar charges. Nevertheless, his trial will take place in Fort Wayne to keep the media away. That’s why Mark’s trial landed in South Bend. The date of Monserrate Shirley’s trial has yet to be established.
Mark Leonard’s attorney said that it wasn’t a surprise to him to see the jury reach a conclusion so fast.
“If the jury believed there was intent to commit insurance fraud and believed that part of that was to burn the house, all the other counts fell into place,”
The father of one of the deceased said he was glad that Leonard would be put behind bars for life, so he wouldn’t be able to hurt other people. But he didn’t look satisfied with the jury’s verdict. He explained that he just wanted his child back and expressed his sadness at the situation that made Leonard “basically throw his life away.”
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