Richmond Hill victims meet with prosecutors, discuss Leonard’s sentencing

(WISH Photo, file)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Victims of the Richmond Hill explosion learned on Monday night about their one chance to tell Mark Leonard how that unforgettable night has affected their lives.

About two dozen of them and the prosecuting attorney for Leonard’s trial met at Southport Presbyterian Church.  The meeting centered on Leonard’s upcoming sentencing hearing scheduled for August 14.

Leonard was convicted on all 53 counts at his trial last month, two of which were for the murder of Jennifer and Dion Longworth. The couple lived next door to the home that blew up. Leonard conspired to make the home explode in order make an insurance claim.

Denise Robinson of the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office said, “From the time somebody’s charged all the way through the trial, we’re always telling victims ‘It’s about the defendant, it’s about the defendant’s rights.’ Well now the defendant’s been convicted and it’s not about the defendants rights anymore, it’s about their right to be heard.”

And those rights belong to the people walking into Southport Presbyterian Church, just a small sample of the victims of the Richmond Hill explosion.

Dozens of them testified in the trial against Mark Leonard but what they could say on the witness stand was limited.

“When you testify at trial, we have very specific questions that we can ask. It has to be relevant to the trial. We can’t ask about feelings, about how it impacted them or their family members, their children, that sort of thing,” said Robinson.

But that won’t be the case at Leonard’s sentencing. Robinson said at least 10 victims, possibly 20, will make the trip to South Bend to give a statement in person. She said many more plan to write letters to the judge.

“They can look at him. They’re to address their comments to the court but Mark Leonard will be sitting there. And for some of them that’s important for them to be able to say something that he has to sit there and listen to,” said Robinson,

Leonard will have his turn to make a statement at the hearing as well, but Robinson told the victim she doesn’t expect him to talk.

The last person to speak will be St. Joseph County Judge John Marnocha. In the days prior to the hearing, he’ll decide if Leonard should face life without parole for the deaths of Dion and Jennifer Longworth. Then at the hearing, he’ll lay down the sentence related to the other 51 counts.

“It would be a life without parole plus a term of years, or it could just be a total term of years,” said Robinson. Judge Marnocha said by his calculations, Leonard faces a minimum sentence of 45 years and maximum sentence of 1,488 years, if all counts run consecutively. But he said he would likely impose a sentence somewhere between those two numbers.

24-Hour News 8 tried speaking to some of the Richmond Hill residents who were at the meeting, but they didn’t want to talk on camera.

Off camera, one homeowner was asked if he planned to speak at the hearing. He said simply, “I have nothing to say to Mark Leonard.”

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