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Leonard v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

August 10, 2017

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

         Appeal from the Allen Superior Court, No. 02D05-1502-MR-1 The Honorable Frances C. Gull, Judge

         On Direct Appeal

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Ruth Ann Johnson Marion County Public Defender Andrew J. Borland Meggan E. Smith Deputy Public Defenders

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Andrew A. Kobe Jodi K. Stein Deputy Attorneys General

          Massa, Justice.

         Bob Leonard was convicted of two counts of knowing murder, one count of conspiracy to commit arson, and dozens of counts of arson for his role in the 2012 Richmond Hill home explosion. The trial court sentenced him to Life Without Parole on each of the murder convictions, and consecutive terms of years for conspiracy and arson. In this direct appeal, Leonard raises several issues for our review, which we reorder and consolidate as follows: (1) whether there was sufficient evidence to support the murder convictions; (2) whether there was sufficient evidence to support a statutory aggravator; (3) whether the trial court abused its discretion by refusing Leonard's lesser included jury instruction; and (4) whether Indiana's LWOP sentencing statute is unconstitutional. We affirm, finding there was sufficient evidence for the murder convictions and statutory aggravator, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it refused Leonard's tendered instruction, and Indiana's LWOP sentencing statute is not unconstitutional.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On November 10, 2012, at 11:08 p.m., the Marion County Sheriff's Office received its first 911 call describing confusion, a huge bang, and homes shaking on Indianapolis's southeast side. Over the following minutes and hours, 281 more 911 calls would be placed describing the impact from a home explosion in the Richmond Hill subdivision. Firefighters, located at a nearby station, were among those first to arrive. They observed at least one home "completely flattened" and many others with significant damage, substantial gas-fed fires, debris scattering the streets, and many residents wandering outside their homes, emotional and watching the chaos unfold around them. Tr. at 461. Investigators would later conclude that a natural gas explosion with the force of roughly three tons of TNT, originating from Monserrate Shirley's home at 8349 Fieldfare Way, was to blame for the devastation and total destruction that occurred that night.

         Shirley was a nine-year resident of the Richmond Hill neighborhood and lived in her home with her boyfriend, Mark Leonard, her teenaged daughter, and her daughter's cat Snowball. Shirley and Mark first met in November 2011, but their lives quickly melded. Indeed, a month after meeting and two weeks after moving in together, Mark suggested that Shirley increase her home contents insurance from $150, 000 to $300, 000. Shirley also insured two of Mark's vehicles, a Harley Davidson motorcycle and a Cadillac, both of which he stored in her garage. Then in February 2012, Mark pitched the idea of burning Shirley's house to collect the insurance proceeds. Mark told Shirley about a friend of his, Gary Thompson, who had started a fire in the home of another friend for the same purpose, and the insurance company quickly paid the claim. Although Shirley thought the idea was "crazy, " Mark assured her it would "be a small fire, [and she didn't] have to worry about it." Tr. at 3581-82.

         In late October 2012, Mark and Shirley invited Thompson over to Shirley's house and told him they were "ready to do the small fire" so they could "get the insurance money." Tr. at 3598. That same day, Shirley overheard Mark and Thompson discussing the home's thermostat and fireplace, which could be used to start the fire. Mark told Shirley they planned to set the fire on Saturday, October 27, 2012. In preparation, Shirley removed sentimental items that she didn't want destroyed, and Mark placed them in his white van, which Thompson took for safekeeping. Shirley also made overnight arrangements for her teenaged daughter, boarded Snowball at the kennel, and reserved a room at the Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, Indiana for her and Mark to stay in. Everything was set to go, but on the way to Shirley's house Thompson was pulled over by police, and was unable to set the fire.

         Once thwarted, Mark endeavored to try again the next week. He and Thompson suspected that gas was exiting from the fireplace, so they cut a piece of cardboard to block the gas from escaping. On the evening of November 1, 2012, Mark's brother, Bob Leonard ("Leonard"), came over to Shirley's house to discuss Leonard's assisting in setting the fire. Leonard wanted $1, 200 upfront for his involvement, but Mark told him he didn't have the money yet. Instead, he and Mark arranged a deal whereby Leonard would receive $10, 000 of the insurance proceeds. The fire was planned for November 3, 2012, and Shirley made the same arrangements as before: her teenaged daughter was away, Snowball was kenneled, and she and Mark went to the Hollywood Casino. Before Shirley and Mark left for the casino, Leonard came over. Leonard and Mark inspected the thermostat and turned on the gas, and then Leonard left in Mark's white van.

         To their dismay, the plan failed again. When Mark and Shirley returned to Indianapolis the next day, now twice thwarted, Mark called Leonard and asked him to meet. Leonard arrived in Mark's van, and they arranged to burn the house that evening. Like before, Shirley made a hotel reservation for that night. However, Mark also instructed Shirley to call the cooling and heating company to report a thermostat problem, but under no circumstances should she allow them to come into the home. Ultimately, the house was not set on fire that night, but Mark and Leonard continued their efforts to destroy the home.

         Mark and Leonard surmised that earlier attempts to set Shirley's house on fire failed due to the home's large size. In response, Leonard and Mark bought a ceramic heater and replaced the home's digital thermostat with an old-style mercury one that would create a spark, and thus ignite the gas-filled home. When Shirley noticed, she requested that they change it back, which they did; but Mark added he would not quit in his efforts to start a fire, even if it required him to light a cigarette and pour gasoline on the floor. Thereafter, Mark and Leonard used hot glue to seal around the furnace and other areas in the house that might be leaking air, and Thompson came over to ensure the thermostat would start the impending fire. Shirley also noticed two additional gas cans in her garage, which concerned her.

         Over the next couple of days, Mark and Leonard's efforts intensified. They went to their local library to research a fire that had occurred in a house similar to Shirley's. The pair also spoke with Leonard's acquaintance, Arthur Kirkpatrick, an employee of Citizens Gas Company. Leonard asked Kirkpatrick about natural gas, how much gas it would take to fill up a house, and what would happen once a house was filled. Kirkpatrick shared that "just like a balloon, once [a house] gets full, it's gonna pop or blow up or something." Tr. at 4326. On November 9, 2012, Shirley once again made arrangements for her daughter, boarded Snowball, and reserved a room at the Hollywood Casino. Before leaving for the casino, Shirley and Mark removed their valuables from Shirley's home, and met with Leonard to give him money to purchase the remaining parts needed to set the fire. Leonard accepted the ...

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