SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WISH) — The man convicted in connection to the deadly Richmond Hill neighborhood explosion in 2012 has been sentenced to two life sentences without parole and 75 years in prison.
Multiple jurors and dozens of neighbors and family members attended the hearing.
Mark Leonard has been in the St. Joseph County jail since a jury found him guilty of 53 counts in connection to the blast. Dion and Jennifer Longworth were killed in the explosion, and nearly 80 homes were damaged or destroyed.
Judge John Marnocha told the courtroom, this case was motivated by greed and by money. He said this was “the worst of the worst.”
He added, there’s “nothing I can do to make this right… a sentence won’t undo what’s been done.”
He handed down two consecutive life sentences with an additional 75 years.
Family members said while it won’t bring their loved ones back, they’re grateful for the sentence.
“I am appreciative he won’t be the on streets. I am appreciative of that,” said Don Buxton, Jennifer’s father. “I feel good for the people of Richmond Hill. As the judge said, there’s no closure, but it’s a start.”
As the mothers and fathers of victims Dion and Jennifer Longworth spoke inside the courtroom, there were audible tears from many. Some told stories of their childhood, and explained how they would have made great parents.
Dion’s mother, Elaine, told the judge tearfully, “I absolutely and completely hate that my smart strong curious kind hilarious hard working son died at such an absurdly young age, and in such a horrible way.”
“I hate that the ashes of my son and his wife share the space of a sealed box not much bigger than a gallon of milk,” she said. “I hate that I could not save him. I hate that his tortured last moments come to me in flashbacks.”
“I so very much hate it was not me that died instead of him,” she said.
Jennifer’s mom Nancy Buxton said in court, “There are times when I can’t believe you’re gone, and other times it’s all too real. It’s a never-ending nightmare for our family.”
She told the judge her daughter “taught her second grade students there are consequences to their actions, and I hope that applies to adults too.”
After the hearing, Nancy told reporters about her daughter, “She always tried to do the right thing in her life, even if it wasn’t what she wanted to do. She taught her kids to do the right thing even if no one was looking.”
“I know I’m a proud father, but Dion was, he was a hero to me,” said John Longworth, Dion Longworth’s dad.
Two of Dion’s aunts afterwards showed pictures of Dion as a child, saying now, they’re hoping to focus on the positive, sharing stories of fun times with their beloved nephew.
“I can’t remember a day this boy didn’t have a smile on his face,” she said.
Jurors, who had sat through a seven-week trial, came back for the sentencing, saying they wanted to see the case through.
One juror told 24-Hour News 8, “Justice was served.”
In a hearing the day after Leonard was found guilty by a jury, Marion County prosecutors explained three “aggravating circumstances,” or why Leonard should face life without parole. They said there was an explosive used that there were multiple victims killed at different times in different ways, and because victim Dion Longworth was burned alive.
The judge released an order this week, stating the court believes the state has proven beyond a reasonable doubt all the aggravating circumstances.
Leonard was convicted in July of 53 counts in connection to the deadly 2012 Richmond Hill explosion. His conviction included murder, felony murder, arson, conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. Prosecutors said he was the mastermind behind the plot to collect insurance money by blowing up his ex-girlfriend’s home.
“I think the sentences are appropriate. We have said all along we believe there were significant aggravators… We believe this sentence was appropriate,” said Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson. “Today, finally, it goes to show not only to the jury, but to the judge, we proved our case.”
Four others were charged in connection to the explosion. Leonard’s ex-girlfriend Monserrate Shirley took a plea deal in the case and testified against Leonard. Leonard’s half brother Bob is scheduled for trial in January in Allen County.
When asked about a plea deal, Robinson said, “I expect to go to trial in January.”
She said she didn’t foresee Bob Leonard’s case looking much different than Mark’s.
The defense team told the judge the court would need to appoint a public defender for appeals. They wouldn’t speak to reporters after the hearing.