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Leonard v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

May 2, 2017

Mark Leonard, Appellant (Defendant below),
State of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff below).

         Appeal from the St. Joseph Superior Court, Division 2, No. 71D02-1408-MR-000009 The Honorable John M. Marnocha, Judge

         On Direct Appeal

          Attorneys for Appellant Ruth Ann Johnson Marion County Public Defender Victoria L. Bailey Deputy Public Defender Indianapolis, Indiana.

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Andrew A. Kobe Deputy Attorney General Jodi Kathryn Stein Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana.

          Rucker, Justice.

         Case Summary

         Among other offenses a jury convicted Mark Leonard of two counts of murder for which the trial court imposed consecutive life without parole sentences. In this direct appeal Leonard raises several issues for our review which we consolidate, rephrase, and reorder as follows: (1) Is the evidence sufficient to support the murder convictions; (2) Did the State prove an alleged aggravator beyond a reasonable doubt; (3) Did the trial court abuse its discretion by admitting Leonard's out of court statements into evidence; and (4) Is Indiana's life without parole statute unconstitutional. We affirm Leonard's convictions and sentences.


         Richmond Hill is a quiet subdivision on the southeast side of Indianapolis. Shortly after 11:00 p.m. on November 10, 2012, this tranquil enclave was rocked by a massive explosion that could be heard for more than ten miles away. One Richmond Hill resident awakened by the explosion is a combat veteran who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The sound caused him to have flashbacks and to question where he was. Other Richmond Hill residents made their way outside to find homes in a "shredded" state, a state of complete "chaos"; and variously described what they saw: "smoke", insulation falling like snow, "debris absolutely everywhere, " "total destruction, " a "war zone, " rubble "up to my knees, " people "running" and screaming, people "disoriented" and "dazed, " "devastation, " "raining ash" and cinder, a "blast zone." See generally Tr. at 803-1710. Firefighters at a station nearby heard and felt the explosion, and even before emergency calls came in, they set out in the direction of "a large plume of . . . debris and smoke[.]" Tr. at 723. Approaching the neighborhood these first responders observed several houses on fire. Nearly thirty homes were damaged severely enough that they had to be demolished. Others suffered extensive but repairable damage.

         Parallel investigations into the explosion were conducted by the Indianapolis Fire Department; the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department; the Department of Homeland Security; the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Citizens Energy Group; and various other federal and state governmental agencies and insurance companies. Because of the neighborhood's proximity to a municipal airport, investigators initially questioned whether the explosion could have been caused by an airplane crash. They also considered the possibility that a methamphetamine lab exploded or that this was a weather-related incident. These theories were quickly ruled out, and investigators focused on the possibility of a natural gas explosion.

         The home at the epicenter of these events was owned by Monserrate Shirley, a nine-year resident of Richmond Hill. Her boyfriend Mark Leonard also lived at the residence along with Shirley's teenaged daughter and the family cat. No one was home at the time of the explosion. Ultimately authorities concluded natural gas was intentionally leaked into the Shirley home through a modification of the fireplace and that a delayed timing device was triggered which caused an explosion equal in force to approximately three tons of TNT.

         Facts and Procedural History

         Initially both Leonard and Shirley denied any wrongdoing. Shirley later agreed to cooperate with authorities. According to Shirley, for several months Leonard had planned to destroy the house by fire in a scheme to collect insurance money. At Leonard's urging, Shirley increased the amount of insurance coverage on the contents of the house from $160, 000 to $300, 000. Leonard then recruited a friend-Gary Thompson-to help set the fire. On a previous occasion Thompson had successfully started a fire in the home of another friend for the purpose of collecting insurance money. In a conversation at Shirley's house, Shirley overheard Leonard and Thompson talking about the thermostat and heard Thompson say they could use the fireplace to start the fire.

         The plan was to set the fire Saturday night, October 27, 2012. In preparation, Shirley arranged a hotel room for herself and Leonard at an out-of-town casino and arranged an overnight babysitter for Shirley's daughter. She also boarded her cat at a kennel. As it turned out, the fire did not occur that night. Apparently, Thompson was not able to set it because he had gotten pulled over by a police officer and could not get into Shirley's house.

         Their plan having failed, Leonard told Shirley it "ha[d] to be done" and they were "going to do it again[.]" Tr. at 3700. On the evening of November 1, 2012, Leonard's brother Bob Leonard visited Shirley's home. Leonard and Bob spoke and after Bob left Leonard told Shirley that Bob was going to set a small fire so they could collect the insurance money and that they would pay Bob $10, 000. Leonard and Thompson cut a piece of cardboard and used it to block the flue to the fireplace chimney so that gas coming from the fireplace would stay in the house. The plan was for a spark from the thermostat to ignite the gas from the fireplace.

         Arrangements were made as before: boarding the cat; Shirley's daughter spending the night with friends; and the couple waiting at the casino. The fire was scheduled to occur on Saturday, November 3, 2012. This plan did not work either. However, when speaking on the phone to Mike Duckworth-his friend of twenty years-Leonard told Duckworth that he had been on the internet looking for a Ferrari. When Duckworth asked Leonard how he could afford a Ferrari, anticipating a successful fire, Leonard stated, "[t]sunami winds blew out the fireplace and the house blew up. . . . And they were getting 300, 000 dollars." Tr. at 4164.

         Leonard continued his efforts to destroy the house. He and Bob went to a local library and researched a fire in a similar sized home. The two also spoke to an employee of the gas company about natural gas, how much it would take to fill up a house, and what would happen to the house when it was full of gas. The employee informed them that the house was "like a balloon, and once it gets full, it's going to blow up." Tr. at 4849.

         On Friday, November 9, 2012-for the third weekend in row-Shirley again arranged for a room at the casino, a place for the cat at a kennel, and a babysitter for her daughter. The following evening Shirley and Leonard were seated at the bar inside the casino when she received a telephone call telling her something terrible had happened in her neighborhood and asking if she and her daughter were all right. Shirley then called a neighbor who informed Shirley that her house had exploded and there was nothing left.

         Shirley's house was next door to the home of husband and wife Dion and Jennifer Longworth. Their home was also destroyed in the explosion. It was reduced from a two-story residence to a seven-foot pile of rubble. Despite the best efforts of firefighters and neighbors to rescue the couple neither survived. Having been in the upstairs bedroom, Mrs. Longworth died an "almost sudden death" from what the medical examiner referred to as "blast injuries[, ]" which means "extensive injury and change of pressure, causing fractures of the skull, fractures of the inner ear, when you have abrupt change of pressure . . . . " Tr. at 1784. The autopsy report revealed Mrs. Longworth suffered significant thermal injuries.

         Mr. Longworth survived the initial blast but ended up trapped in the basement of his house. He was alert, relatively uninjured, and communicating with neighbors through a hole in the house at ground level. However, the house was on fire. Firefighters tried to pull Mr. Longworth out of the hole but the fire kept getting closer to where they were working to get him out. The heat became so intense that even wearing protective gear firefighters had to back away. Mr. Longworth sustained thermal injuries and charring over 90% of his body. His ultimate cause of death was inhalation of hot gases and soot, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Both Mr. and Mrs. Longworth had to be identified through their dental records.

         On December 20, 2012, the State of Indiana charged Leonard, Shirley, and Bob in a forty-nine count Information. The charges were as follows: Counts I and II Murder, a felony; Count III Conspiracy to Commit Arson as a Class A felony; Count IV Conspiracy to Commit Arson as a Class B felony; Counts V through XVI, Arson as Class A felonies; and Counts XVII through XLIX Arson as Class B felonies. The State later amended the charging Information by adding Count L-an additional charge of Arson as a Class B felony; and Count LI Conspiracy to Commit Insurance Fraud as a Class C felony. Thereafter on February 11, 2013, alleging three aggravating circumstances, the State filed a request seeking life without parole for the murder charges.[1]

         Extensive discovery and pre-trial proceedings ensued. After several delays, including a change of venue from Marion County, the guilt phase of Leonard's jury trial began June 4, 2015 and concluded July 14, 2015, generating a twenty-two-volume transcript and over eighteen hundred exhibits. Following the guilt phase of trial the jury found Leonard guilty as charged on all counts. Leonard had previously waived his right to trial by jury for the penalty phase of the trial. Therefore, the trial court conducted a hearing before the bench. It found the State proved each of the three charged aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial court also found the State proved "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the three aggravating circumstances "far outweigh the mitigating circumstances considered." App. at 81. The trial court thus imposed consecutive life without parole sentences for the two murder convictions; and except for Counts IV and V[2] the trial court imposed an aggregate sentence of 75 years on the remaining counts to be served consecutively to the LWOP sentences. This appeal proceeded in due course. Pursuant to Appellate Rule 9(A)(1)(a) the Court has mandatory and exclusive jurisdiction over this appeal. Additional facts are set forth below.


         I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         Leonard contends the evidence is not sufficient to sustain the murder convictions. More specifically he argues: (1) the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knowingly killed Dion and Jennifer Longworth; and (2) the State failed to prove the knowing element as to these specific victims. "In reviewing a sufficiency of the evidence claim, we do not reweigh the evidence or assess the credibility of witnesses." Soward v. State, 716 N.E.2d 423, 425 (Ind. 1999). Rather, we look to the evidence and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom that support the verdict, and we will affirm the convictions if there is probative evidence from which a reasonable jury could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Kelly v. State, 719 N.E.2d 391, 394 (Ind. 1999).

         As charged, the State had the burden of proving Leonard knowingly killed Dion and/or Jennifer Longworth. To sustain a verdict, the evidence must show the defendant "was aware of a high probability that someone's death would result from his actions. Because knowledge is the mental state of the actor, the trier of fact must resort to reasonable inferences of its existence." Young v. State, 761 N.E.2d 387, 389 (Ind. 2002).

         The record shows the Longworths had lived next door to Shirley since 2003 when her house was first built. The jury could reasonably infer from the circumstances Leonard knew of the proximity between the two homes and that he knew the home next door was occupied, since he had lived with Shirley off and on for eleven months at the time of the explosion. Soon after Leonard moved in with Shirley he began asking about her insurance coverage and then began planning the scheme to defraud the insurance company by damaging the house. Leonard gained Shirley's consent and he recruited others to help ensure they would collect the full $300, 000 from the insurance company. Leonard and accomplices attempted unsuccessfully multiple times to destroy the home. After each failure, they increased their efforts to better ensure success. By the time the explosion happened on November 10, the fireplace gas valve and regulator had been reconfigured so gas would flow into the home unimpeded, the chimney was blocked to prevent gas from escaping, the digital thermostat was removed and replaced with a less sophisticated version, and gasoline was poured on the floors in the home. In the library, Leonard ...

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