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Indiana blast suspect sought hit man to kill witness: prosecutor

By Susan Guyett

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - A man already charged with murder in the Indianapolis home explosion that killed two of his neighbors in November has been charged with trying to hire a hit man to kill a witness in the case, prosecutors said on Thursday.

Mark Leonard, who has been in jail since December on the earlier charges, was charged with conspiracy to commit murder, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry told a news conference.

Leonard offered to pay a man who turned out to be an undercover federal agent $15,000 to kill a witness, with an additional $5,000 if he made it look like a suicide, Curry said.

Investigators put Leonard in touch with the agent after he talked to a fellow inmate about hiring a hit man, Curry said. The agreement was made in writing and prosecutors have taped conversations between Leonard and the agent, he said.

Leonard drew a map to the witness's house and agreed to make the payment upon his release from jail, Curry said.

Leonard, the woman he lived with, Monserrate Shirley, and Leonard's brother, Bob Leonard Jr., were charged in December with felony murder and multiple counts of arson for allegedly setting up the explosion.

The blast killed Jennifer and John Longworth, injured 12 other area residents and resulted in 33 neighborhood houses being demolished.

Prosecutors allege that Shirley and Mark Leonard had arranged to be at a casino the night of the explosion, left her daughter with a sitter and boarded their cat. They also were charged with trying to blow up the house the week before.

Personal property insurance on the house had been raised recently to $304,000 and photographs and personal financial records were removed before the explosion, prosecutors said.

Investigators believe a programmable microwave that exploded from the inside out was the source of ignition and valves that regulate natural gas into the house and to a fireplace were removed, allowing gas to build up over hours, prosecutors said when announcing the charges against the three in December.

The investigation into the explosion case is continuing, Curry said.

(Reporting by Susan Guyett; Editing by David Bailey and Vicki Allen)

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