Jury to resume deliberations Wednesday in 2nd Richmond Hill trial

Bob Leonard (WISH Photo, file)

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WISH) — Jurors will resume deliberations Wednesday morning, in the trial for 57-year-old Bob Leonard Jr. in Allen County.

Leonard is one of five people charged in connection to the deadly 2012 explosion in the Richmond Hill neighborhood of Indianapolis.

Jurors received the case after closing arguments Tuesday, and deliberated only about an hour before heading to a hotel where they’ll be sequestered until they return Wednesday to deliberate.

Bob Leonard Jr. is facing 51 counts in connection to the deadly 2012 explosion in a south side Indianapolis neighborhood, including multiple counts of murder, conspiracy to commit arson and arson.

Leonard could face life without parole if convicted on what prosecutors call “knowing” murder charges.

The explosion in the Richmond Hill neighborhood in November of 2012 killed Dion and Jennifer Longworth, and damaged or destroyed upwards of 80 homes.

In final arguments for the prosecution, Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Mark Hollingsworth walked the jurors back through all the days of testimony they’d heard, all the witnesses they’d heard from, and all the evidence they’d seen. Hollingsworth worked to bring all that testimony together for the jurors.

“This was not an accident,” Hollingsworth told jurors.

“Bob Leonard was very much a part of the conspiracy,” he told them.

Hollingsworth also brought up the couple who died in the explosion, Dion and Jennifer Longworth, telling jurors, “Dion and Jennifer were very much alive before” this explosion. “They were human beings, and they did not deserve anything that happened to them.”

He added, “He [Dion] burned to death, because of that man [pointing at Bob Leonard] and his brother” and their co-conspirators.

Prosecutors say Leonard was part of the conspiracy to collect insurance money by setting a fire at Monserrate Shirley’s home in the Richmond Hill neighborhood. They say he aided in setting the explosion and was to receive $10,000 for his role. Hollingsworth walked jurors back through the multiple attempts they say were made to spark the explosion. He said the final attempt succeeded by removing a part of the gas system to Shirley’s home, removing a valve to the gas fireplace to allow gas to seep into the home, then setting the timer on a microwave and sparking the explosion with a cylinder inside.

“So who sets the microwave?” asked Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson asked the jury during the state’s rebuttal to the defense closing arguments.

“Who is hitting at 11 at night off the cell towers near 8349 Fieldfare Way? He is,” Robinson told the jury, pointing at defendant Bob Leonard.

Prosecutors also say Bob Leonard’s DNA was found on the front door of Monserrate Shirley’s home, the epicenter of the explosion, and in multiple places throughout a white van that was seen at the home and at Leonard’s trailer. Leonard also talked about the explosion with other jail inmates, the prosecution said.

Hollingsworth also reminded jurors about the golf clubs from Monserrate Shirley’s home that were in Bob Leonard’s possession after the explosion, and the high-powered saw found in the white van they say Bob Leonard was driving. He reminded jurors that Bob Leonard’s cell phone was hitting off a tower near Richmond Hill in the days before the explosion.

Robinson and Hollingsworth also worked to explain to the jury what the state needed to prove in order to find Leonard guilty.

“Indiana law says a person who aids in an offense, commits that offense. It doesn’t distinguish between relative culpability of parties. It says if you aid, you’re guilty, just as much as everybody else. That’s what we were trying to stress to the jurors,” Robinson told reporters afterwards.

For two hours, defense attorney Ted Minch presented his closing statements. He told jurors the prosecution still hadn’t shown them a credible way of how Bob Leonard had participated in the conspiracy.

“What did he do?” Minch asked jurors. “What did the state or witnesses tell you Bob Leonard actually did?”

“In Mr Hollingsworth’s closing, he laid out all these things that went on over the course of a couple weeks as a part of the conspiracy, and there’s still been no actual evidence as to what Bob Leonard did. What credible evidence has been introduced as to what Bob Leonard actually did as part of the conspiracy? Yes we have these communications with other people such as Arthur Kirkpatrick, but what information did he actually illicit, and what information could be used as part of the conspiracy?” Minch explained to reporters afterwards.

Minch also worked to discredit the testimony from investigators, Monserrate Shirley and inmates during his closing arguments. He asked jurors to look over phone records, saying not everything added up. He brought up Monserrate Shirley’s testimony, saying she was testifying in order to receive a lesser sentence. Mark Leonard’s former girlfriend, Shirley, agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors. She testified against both Mark and Bob Leonard.

“If she would say anything because Mark Leonard told her to… What would she say if her freedom was on the line?” Minch told jurors.

After the defense presented, the state was able to present a rebuttal.

Prosecuting attorney Denise Robinson told jurors, “Listen to the testimony, not from counsel who wants you to overlook.”

Robinson reminded jurors to be careful when analyzing the phone records. She also reminded them about the long periods of time Bob Leonard’s was transmitting nothing, meaning it was turned off or the phone was dead.

She also addressed Monserrate Shirley’s testimony, saying “all details of the investigation corroborate her testimony.”

Bob Leonard’s half-brother, Mark Leonard, was sentenced in summer of 2015 to two life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Two other men charged in connection to the explosion, Gary Thompson and Glenn Hults, have jury trials set for June 2016.

“We take it one day at a time”

The fathers of the victims, Don Buxton and John Longworth, also spoke with reporters after the case was given to the jury.

“My hopes are that Mr. Leonard will be found guilty on all counts. I’m prejudice – I’m Jenny’s dad,” explained Buxton. “That would be my best hope.”

“You don’t know what happens until the jury returns, but from having heard all the information twice now, it pretty much looks the same, so I expect the same results,” said John Longworth, Dion’s dad.

Longworth was in South Bend at Mark Leonard’s trial every single day.

“Three and a half years almost, it’s just part of life. It’s what it becomes,” said Longworth.

“He’s still with us, in our hearts, and so is Jennifer,” Longworth added. “I just hope people can see Dion in me, because I thought a lot of him.”

Buxton explained, he thinks about Jenny, a second-grade teacher, as he sits through parts of this latest trial.

“I find when I’m sitting there, I think about all the things that Jenny and I used to do together. I think about her being a little girl, I think about her being a teacher. Her being my daughter, the Christmases we’ve missed, I cover it all,” he said.
Buxton also talked about the other trials still pending in connection to the explosion, and how they are continuing to deal with the loss of Dion and Jennifer.
“You take it one day at a time; what choice do you have,” said Buxton. “The worst thing that could happen to a parent happened to us. And just like that. We’ve been dealing with it ever since, and we will continue to deal with it. When people talk about grieving for a loved one especially a child, it does never end. It’s not a cold, it’s not a cancer, you can’t cut it out. It’s there forever. So everyday it’s something different, Some days you’re good, some days you’re bad, but we’ve always got Jenny in our hearts and Dion.”

 

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