FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - An Indianapolis man was convicted of murder, arson and insurance fraud on Wednesday for his role in a 2012 house explosion that killed two neighbors and devastated a subdivision in the southern part of the city.
A northern Indiana jury found Bob Leonard, 57, guilty on all 51 counts he faced. Prosecutors said surveillance video, witness testimony and DNA evidence proved he was involved in the plot with his half brother and others to use natural gas and a microwave to blow up the house for $300,000 in insurance.
The judge later ruled that aggravating factors were sufficient for Leonard to face a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. His sentencing hearing is set for March 18.
“It closes one more piece in the tragedy. It helps with putting the nightmare behind us some,” said John Longworth, whose son and daughter-in-law lived next door and were killed in the explosion.
Longworth said he was pleased Leonard wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone else. He said the verdict was a relief, but “there’s nothing for us to be happy about. It’s all sad.”
Defense attorney Ted Minch said the “enormity” of the explosion and the case against his client had been a concern.
“I think what we were always concerned about, and we tried to tell the jury this, that it’s just the enormity of the case. And can you get beyond the enormity of the case, the amount of destruction, the death, the description that you hear - it’s like a war zone? That was always our concern, and I don’t think we were ever able to overcome that,” Minch told reporters.
The verdict came seven months after Leonard’s half brother, Mark Leonard, was convicted of being the mastermind behind the Nov. 10, 2012, explosion that also damaged or destroyed more than 80 homes. He was sentenced in August to two life sentences, along with 75 years in prison.
The home was owned by his girlfriend at the time, Monserrate Shirley, who testified earlier this month that Bob Leonard was brought into the plot after a first attempt to burn down her house failed in October 2012. Prosecutors allege the suspects planned to destroy the house by filling it with natural gas. A microwave apparently set to start on a timer sparked the blast.
The explosion destroyed the home and the house next door, killing Jennifer and John “Dion” Longworth.
Shirley told jurors that when she asked Bob Leonard about the explosion that killed her next-door neighbors, he replied: “Oh, well, they died. You were in it. You talk, we talk.”
Prosecutors presented 16 days of testimony during Bob Leonard’s more than month-long trial in Fort Wayne, where the trial was moved because of high publicity of the case in Indianapolis. Mark Leonard’s trial was held in South Bend.
Bob Leonard didn’t testify in his defense, and his attorneys called just two witnesses who were on the stand for about a half hour. Jurors began deliberating Tuesday.
Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson said she was glad to see the verdict for the victims.
“There’s not a lot of celebration, just more of a recognition that justice was served in this case,” she said.
Shirley, who testified against both men, has pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges. She faces 20 years to 50 years in prison when sentenced.
Her cooperation also led to charges against two alleged co-conspirators, Glenn Hults and Gary Thompson, who face a joint June trial. Thompson faces two counts of murder and 47 arson-related counts, while Hults faces a charge of conspiracy to commit arson.
John Longworth said he was looking forward to the final trial in the case.
“They’ve really hurt our family,” he said. “It’s easier now to think of Dion and Jennifer, and smile sometimes because you remember something that they did. At family gatherings, we’ll talk about things that they did and laugh.”
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