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Three face murder charges in Indianapolis home blast

By Susan Guyett

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - A man and woman who lived in an Indianapolis house that exploded in November killing two neighbors and damaging scores of homes, have been charged with felony murder and multiple counts of arson for allegedly blowing up the home, prosecutors said.

Monserrate Shirley and Mark Leonard, who lived in the home that exploded, and Leonard's brother, Bob Leonard Jr., were charged on Thursday in connection with the explosion and arrested on Friday, authorities said.

The personal property insurance on the home had been raised recently to $304,000 and photographs and personal financial records removed before the explosion, prosecutors allege.

The three face murder charges in the deaths of neighbors Jennifer and John Longworth and multiple other charges for the injuries to 12 other area residents in the blast and for the 33 neighborhood homes that had to be demolished, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry told a news conference.

This was a "thoroughly senseless act" that cost the lives of two young people, Curry 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 home and to a fireplace were removed, allowing gas to build up over hours, Curry said.

Prior to the explosion, Bob Leonard and Mark Leonard had consulted a Citizens Energy Group employee on how much gas it would take to fill a house, Curry said.

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, Curry said.

All three are being held without bond because of the murder charge. They could face the death penalty or life without parole under the charges, which will be decided later, Curry said.

They believe a fourth person had been at the home the day of the explosion and the investigation is continuing, Curry said.

Shirley and Mark Leonard were also charged with trying to blow up the house the Saturday before, Curry said.

(Reporting by Susan Guyett; Writing by David Bailey; editing by Andrew Hay)

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