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Agents testify homeowner increased insurance on house contents before deadly explosion

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SOUTH BEND, Indiana — The girlfriend of a man accused of blowing up an Indianapolis house, devastating a subdivision and killing two neighbors, nearly doubled the insurance coverage for the contents of her home 11 months before the explosion, two insurance agents testified Tuesday.

State Farm independent contractor Steve Engle and his employee, Anita Robinson, testified Tuesday that Monserrate Shirley called to increase her insurance coverage to $300,000 in December 2011. Shirley's previous insurance would have paid the minimum 75 percent of the house valued at $212,000, or about $159,000, Engle and Robinson said.

Robinson said Shirley told her she wanted more coverage because she had "bought a lot of stuff." Ken Bailey, with State Farm's special investigation unit for houses, testified Shirley told him she had bought a Picasso painting and two big screen TVs in the previous year. Bailey also said Shirley's live-in boyfriend, defendant Mark Leonard, told him there was $20,000 in cash in the home at the time of the explosion.

Shirley, who pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges and faces a possible sentence to 20 to 50 years in prison as part of a plea agreement, testified last week that Leonard persuaded her to increase the insurance coverage. Prosecutors allege Leonard conspired with his half brother, Bob, and Shirley to blow up the house on Nov. 10, 2012, and collect the insurance money to pay off debts.

Mark Leonard is charged with murder, arson, conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud in the explosion that killed John "Dion" Longworth, and his wife Jennifer. The couple would have celebrated their 14th wedding anniversary on Tuesday, said John's father, John Longworth.

Engle recalled meeting with Shirley and Mark Leonard in his office two days after the explosion. He said Shirley didn't talk much because she was so emotional, describing it as a somber conversation. Robinson said: "Miss Shirley kept saying, 'My house is gone.'"

Much of the testimony Tuesday involved State Farm investigators telling the jury about how they ran an investigation parallel to the one conducted by the Indianapolis police and fire departments, including interviews they had with Shirley and Leonard.

Amber Horine, who was with State Farm's special investigation unit for automobiles, said Leonard told her that he had helped Shirley stabilize her finances, saying he told her: "I got her out of the hole."

She said Leonard also told her that he and Shirley shared finances like a married couple, saying: "What's mine is hers, and what's hers is mine."

Horine said an insurance claim by Shirley for a motorcycle being destroyed in the explosion raised red flags because she wasn't certified to drive a motorcycle and because she was too small for it. Horine said she also found some discrepancies in what Leonard told her, saying he said he bought a motorcycle off Craigslist for $18,500 but that text messages with the seller indicated he paid $2,700.

Horine and Bailey said Shirley's insurance claims for the home and vehicles were denied, but they didn't specifically say why.

Prosecutors are expected to call their final witnesses Wednesday in the trial that began with opening statements on June 8. Defense attorneys said they expect to be done with their case by midday Thursday.

The trial was moved 140 miles from Indianapolis to South Bend because of extensive media coverage in central Indiana.

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