Court: Separate trials OK for suspects in deadly neighborhood explosion

INDIANAPOLIS - The suspects in a deadly explosion on Indianapolis' south side can have separate trials, a judge ruled Thursday.

The Call 6 Investigators confirmed that Monserrate Shirley and Mark Ray Leonard would be permitted to be tried individually.

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The third suspect in the case, Leonard's brother Robert Leonard, did not request a separate trial, but he will be tried separately by default.

Marion Superior Court Judge Sheila Carlisle wrote in her decision that, "a separate trial is necessary to promote a fair determination of the guilt or innocence of the Defendant."

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said the ruling could push the trial dates further back.

"We were looking at a possible trial date of the middle of next year, and I think the parties weren't sure how realistic that was to begin with," Curry said.

Curry said in addition to pushing back the start dates, the whole process will take much more time.

"We were looking at a lengthy trial to begin with," he said. "We certainly don't look forward to the possibility of doing it three times, but if that's what we have to do, we'll do it."

Additional hearings leading up to the trials add more layers to the process.

For one, there are change of venue motions pending, to move the trials out of Marion County.

"I would anticipate the court will not rule upon those until it gets closer to the trial," Curry said.

The three are charged in the Nov. 10 explosion that killed a couple who lived next door and destroyed five homes, including Shirley's. They were all arrested in late December.

Prosecutors said the trio plotted to fill the couple's home with gas and ignite it using a microwave timer, killing neighbors John and Jennifer Longworth, leveling five homes and causing $4 million worth of damage in the neighborhood.

All three were charged with two counts of murder, one count of conspiracy to commit arson, 33 counts of arson, a Class B felony and 12 counts of arson, a Class A felony.

The explosion caused widespread damage to dozens of other homes in the subdivision, many of which had to be demolished.

Investigators believe the three conspired to fill Shirley's house with natural gas by tampering with natural gas pipes and valves, and programmed a microwave to start on a timer to ignite the gas.

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