Monday, February 11, 2013 5:26 pm
Prosecutor nixes death penalty in Ind. house blast
By PAMELA ENGELAssociated Press
Prosecutor Terry Curry announced he will seek life sentences without parole if a jury convicts Monserrate Shirley, her boyfriend Mark Leonard and his brother, Bob Leonard. All three face murder, arson and conspiracy charges in the Nov. 10 blast that destroyed dozens of homes and killed two people.
"If we go down a path that is easily a 10-, 12-, 15-year process, we want a pretty significant comfort level that at the end of the day it will result in the punishment requested," Curry said. "Experience shows that the likelihood that anyone would ever be executed when a request for the death penalty is filed is highly unlikely."
Indiana University law professor Fran Watson pointed out that until last week, when a Lake County jury recommended the death sentence for a Gary man convicted of killing his wife and two stepchildren, an Indiana jury had not suggested the punishment in three years.
The availability of life without parole also has made juries less likely to deliver a death sentence, she said.
Investigators say Shirley and the Leonards intentionally created a gas explosion in Shirley's home in hopes of collecting insurance money. Thirty-three homes in the Richmond Hill subdivision on the far south side of Indianapolis were damaged so extensively they had to be demolished.
A microwave set to start on a timer sparked the explosion in Shirley's gas-filled home, Curry said. Investigators determined that a gas fireplace valve and a gas line regulator in the house were removed. Investigators believe the trio also tried but failed to blow up Shirley's home the weekend before.
John and Jennifer Longworth died after the explosion ignited another explosion and resulting fire at their house. Curry said he consulted with the victims' parents, but declined to say if they supported his decision to seek life without parole.
Curry also announced new charges. The state has filed a motion to add a felony count of arson against all three defendants for damage to houses in the neighborhood that did not require demolition.
The state also requested a felony charge of insurance fraud against Shirley and felony charges of conspiracy to commit insurance fraud against Shirley and Mark Leonard.
Shirley's attorney did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Associated Press writer Ken Kusmer contributed to this report.