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Home-explosion suspect accused of jailhouse plot to kill witness

March 28, 2013|By Matt Pearce
  • Two Indianapolis homes were leveled and numerous neighboring homes were damaged in a massive explosion that sparked a huge fire and killed two people.
Two Indianapolis homes were leveled and numerous neighboring homes were… (Matt Kryger / Indianapolis…)

Mark Leonard had already been charged with two counts of murder in a natural-gas explosion that leveled part of an Indianapolis neighborhood. Now he's accused of plotting a third to cover his tracks.

The Nov. 10 blast killed Jennifer Longworth, 36, and her husband, John "Dion" Longworth, 34. They lived next door to the house that exploded in the Richmond Hills neighborhood.

A little more than a month after the blast, Monserrate Shirley, 47, the owner of the home at the center of the explosion, along with her boyfriend, Mark Leonard, 44, and his brother, Bob Leonard Jr., 54, were accused of intentionally leaking natural gas into the house and then using the kitchen's programmable microwave to trigger the blast, in an alleged plot to collect insurance money. All three were charged with two counts of murder, in addition to charges for arson. They have yet to face trial.

On Thursday, Marion County officials revealed a murder-conspiracy charge against Mark Leonard on suspicion that he had tried to hire a hit-man to kill a key witness against him in hopes that he would escape trial.

Leonard asked another inmate in his cellblock of the Marion County Jail whether a member of the inmate's biker gang would be able to kill a witness called "MD," according to an Indianapolis Police Department affidavit. (See investigators' full account of the alleged plot here.)

Police say Leonard drew a map to the witness' house and offered to pay $15,000 as soon as he was released from jail, believing that officials wouldn't have a case against him with the witness dead.

The unidentified inmate apparently informed police of the alleged plot, after which point an undercover agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) got involved.

The unidentified agent spoke with Leonard over the phone on March 13 and March 14 in conversations that were recorded by police, according to the affidavit.

"I want to make it look like a suicide," Leonard told the agent, according to the affidavit, adding, "Yeah, because if, see this way, it will get me out of jail pretty much instantly, if you have him call 911 from like his cellphone.... I want him to say, 'I did not mean to frame Mark and Moncie for [blowing up] their own house in Richmond Hills.' "

Leonard said the witness, MD, had been "running his mouth" and that he wanted the hit to happen "yesterday," then he upped the price for the hit to $20,000 as he talked to the agent about the details of the plot over the jailhouse phone, police said.

"See, this is the stuff I didn't want to talk about on the phone, cause [they're] going to pick up on this," Leonard told the agent, according to the affidavit. "But, um, there's just no way it can be done like that. I can't talk to people right now. Their phones are bugged."

Officials didn't have a court date set for Leonard's new charge. Marion County Sheriff John R. Layton said inmates are usually aware that the jailhouse phones are recorded.

“There are several situations that would let them know this might not be the smartest thing to do in their case, maybe," Layton said, according to the Indianapolis Star, "but they still do it for whatever reason at times."


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