- Associated Press - Friday, August 14, 2015

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - An Indianapolis man should have known the likely outcome of blowing up a house at a time when most people were home, a judge said Friday, calling him the “prime mover” in the scheme who deserved consecutive life sentences without parole for killing two neighbors.

St. Joseph County Superior Court Judge John Marnocha also sentenced Mark Leonard, 46, to another 75 years on arson and conspiracy charges, dismissing arguments by his attorneys that he wasn’t the person who physically caused the November 2012 blast that destroyed or damaged more than 80 homes.

“He was not a bystander who got caught up in the plans of others,” Marnocha said. “He made the plans.”

Marnocha said Leonard turned the house into a bomb in what prosecutors described as a plot to trigger a natural gas explosion at his then-girlfriend’s home to collect $300,000 in insurance. A jury convicted Leonard on July 14 of murder, arson and conspiracy. Homeowner Monserrate Shirley has pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges as part of a plea agreement, and Leonard’s half brother and two others are awaiting trial.

The judge started the hearing by deciding that Leonard should be sentenced to life without parole because prosecutors had proved three factors - more than one person was killed, an explosion was involved and 34-year-old John “Dion” Longworth had burned to death. Longworth’s 36-year-old wife, Jennifer, was killed instantly.

Marnocha then heard testimony from family and friends of the Longworths and neighborhood residents whose homes were destroyed. Dion Longworth’s mother, Elaine Higgs-Sgorcea, told the judge that since her son’s death she sees life through “a filter of hate and grief.”

“Hate for me has become as common and everyday as putting on my shoes or brushing my teeth,” she said. “I absolutely and completely hate beyond all normal limits that my beautiful boy, my smart, strong, curious, kind, hilarious, hardworking son died at such an absurdly young age and in such a horrible way.”

She said she also hates how her son’s tortured last moments come to her in flashbacks, seeing “his gorgeous long hand reaching for me and I am utterly powerless to pull him free” and that when people search for her son’s name on the Internet they find pictures of Leonard. She called it a “horrible and sickening indignity.”

Jennifer Longworth’s mother, Nancy Buxton, described how family get-togethers have changed because their daughter and son-in-law aren’t there, describing it as a “never-ending nightmare.”

“She taught her second-grade students that there are consequences for actions. I hope that is true for adults, too,” Buxton said.

Some neighborhood residents said they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, describing how they and their children have trouble sleeping, going to school and going to work. They told the judge Leonard’s trial and the one upcoming are a constant reminder of that night.

“You can’t move on when you’re still dealing with it,” said Gloria Olvey, who was trapped in her home until neighbors rescued her.

Leonard’s attorney said the defense was aware that some people were upset that they saw him laughing and joking with his attorneys during the trial, and that he hasn’t shown any remorse.

Attorney Diane Black turned and told the packed courtroom that she was sorry but she said Leonard wouldn’t be making a statement because he is planning an appeal.

“That’s our decision and if you’re going to blame someone, I’ll accept the blame for that,” she said.

Black and her co-counsel David Shircliff declined to comment after the sentencing.

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