Ind. blast suspect charged in plot to kill witness
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A man already charged in a deadly house explosion in Indianapolis tried to arrange for a key witness to be killed, despite signs in the jail warning inmates that their phone calls were recorded, prosecutors said Thursday.
Mark Leonard also wrote and signed a contract to hire a hit man and confirmed in a phone call with an undercover federal agent posing as a hit man that he wanted the witness dead, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said at a news conference in downtown Indianapolis.
Leonard, his girlfriend, Monserrate Shirley, and his brother Bob Leonard already face life in prison without parole if convicted of felony charges including murder and arson in the Nov. 10 blast. Teacher Jennifer Longworth and her husband, John, were killed in the explosion that also left 33 homes in the Richmond Hill subdivision so damaged that they had to be demolished.
Curry said Leonard has now also been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit murder.
Leonard asked a fellow inmate at Marion County Jail if he could put him in touch with a hit man to kill the witness who he said was "blabbing," according to the affidavit. The inmate, who Leonard believed belonged to a motorcycle gang, indicated he could help, and they drew up a contract agreeing that Leonard would pay a $15,000 kill fee on his release. Leonard even drew a map indicating the location of the witness' home, the affidavit says.
Leonard also offered a $5,000 bonus on two conditions: that the hit man would first persuade the witness to call 911 and recant his statement to investigators, and that the death would look like a suicide.
The affidavit does not describe how or when federal authorities became involved, and Curry declined to provide details, but soon after Leonard's conversation with the inmate he found himself on the phone with a man he believed to be a hit man. Instead, it was a federal agent.
The agent asked Leonard if he was certain he wanted to go through with the killing and Leonard said he was, according to the affidavit. When the agent asked Leonard if he wanted the witness to suffer, Leonard told him no, because "that takes too much time," the affidavit says.
The witness told investigators that Leonard had told him about the explosion a week before it occurred and that Leonard was already shopping for the Ferrari that he intended to buy with the insurance money, according to a probable cause affidavit related to the original charges.
Investigators believe Leonard and the others orchestrated the fatal explosion by removing a gas fireplace valve and gas line regulator so that the house filled up with natural gas, then set a microwave to start on a timer, sparking the blast.
Curry said in February he would seek life without parole for Shirley and the Leonards because a jury was unlikely to choose the death penalty.