INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - One of the suspects in the Richmond Hill explosion case was charged on Thursday, accused of trying to hire someone to kill a witness.
The Marion County Prosecutor's Office charged Mark Leonard with conspiracy to commit murder after he allegedly plotted a murder for hire behind bars.
The charges were announced during a press conference Thursday morning. The charge is a Class A felony and carries a potential sentence of 20 to 50 years incarceration.
An informant tipped off police saying that Leonard was looking to hire someone to kill a witness and that's when an undercover officer got involved.
Court documents reveal phone conversations between Leonard and an undercover officer, discussing details of the witness’s home. Leonard offered to give the undercover officer $15,000 in exchange for making the murder look like a suicide. He also wanted the witness to call 911 and say, “I want him to say, ‘I did not mean to frame Mark and Moncie for their own house in Richmond Hills,’” further telling the undercover officer, “they’ll have me out of here within a couple of days I bet." In a phone conversation, Leonard offered $5,000 on top of the original agreed-upon price.
According to court documents, that witness, identified as "MD," was a good friend of Leonard's, who spoke to him a week before the explosion, about it. Court documents show the witness told police Leonard expected to get $300,000 from the explosion. He told police Leonard was often involved in schemes to make money.
Officials say there’s no reason to believe other suspects in the explosion case were aware of the plot or were involved. No witnesses are believed to be in harm’s way, as it appears Leonard wasn’t in contact with anyone who would carry out the plot.
“Whether this has any impact on the underlying explosion case remains to be seen,” Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said during a news conference on Thursday.
Mark, his girlfriend Monseratte Shirley and his brother Bob Leonard have been at the Marion County Jail since they were arrested just before Christmas.
Mark Leonard’s phone privileges have not been taken away as a result of the alleged plot, though jail staff will be monitoring him.
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“He will be kept safe and out of harm’s way until we can bring him to justice,” Marion County Sheriff John Layton said Thursday.
Each of the suspects was initially charged with two counts of murder and dozens of arson charges for the November blast caused by ignition of natural gas that killed two neighbors, Dion and Jennifer Longworth , and irreparably damaged dozens of homes. Investigators say the three filled Shirley's home with natural gas hoping to destroy it and collect insurance money.
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry announced in February he would not seek the death penalty against Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard, and Bob Leonard Jr. and would instead seek life-without-parole sentences.
Click here to see how Richmond Hill residents reacted to the news conference.
All three suspects are expected back in court at 1:30 p.m. April 10, in Marion County Criminal Court 3, when a judge could determine a trial date.
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