Guilty plea expected in fatal blast

One of the three people charged with multiple felonies after a deadly southside home explosion in 2012 is expected to plead guilty next week.

Monserrate Shirley, who owned the Richmond Hill home that blew up, has reached a plea agreement with the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, spokeswoman Peg McLeish said. Shirley will be in a Marion County court Tuesday for a change of plea hearing.

Shirley had pleaded not guilty to multiple felony counts, including arson and murder. Her home exploded after natural gas filled the inside and was ignited, killing Jennifer Longworth, a Greenwood teacher, and her husband, Dion, who lived next door, and damaging dozens of other homes in the neighborhood near Stop 11 and Sherman roads.

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McLeish said the prosecutor’s office would not release any more details or documents before the hearing next week. Shirley’s attorney James Voyles was not available Friday.

Investigators have said Shirley, her then-boyfriend Mark Leonard and his brother Bob Leonard plotted to blow up the home to collect insurance money. They said Shirley and Mark Leonard were deep in debt on the house Shirley owned. Court records previously showed that Shirley’s original mortgage on the house was $161,000, and she had a second mortgage for $65,000 and $63,000 in credit card debt. She had filed for bankruptcy but stopped making payments on the debt.

Investigators said that a gas valve in the fireplace and a gas line regulator were removed in Shirley’s house, 8349 Fieldfare Way, allowing natural gas to build up in the house.

Police said they believe a microwave set on a timer then sparked the gas, causing the explosion. The blast could be felt for miles. About 80 homes in the neighborhood were damaged, and dozens had to be torn down.

Prosecutors charged the three with two counts of murder, one count of conspiracy to commit arson and 46 counts of arson.

Shirley and Mark Leonard also each face an additional charge of conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. Shirley also has one additional charge of insurance fraud.

Mark Leonard has been charged with conspiracy to commit murder after investigators said he tried to hire a hitman from jail to kill a witness in the case.

Charges were filed more than a month after the explosion once investigators had finished collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses.

An acquaintance told investi-gators Mark Leonard called him and said that Shirley’s home had blown up and he would be getting money from the insurance policy — a week before the actual explosion.

Prosecutor Terry Curry decided to pursue a sentence of life in prison, instead of the death penalty.

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Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at or 317-736-2718.