By Ryan Sabalow, The Indianapolis Star
INDIANAPOLIS - Prosecutors charged three people with felony murder charges Friday in the house explosion that killed two people and damaged more than 80 nearby homes in November.
Monserrate Shirley, whose Southside home exploded, killing two of her neighbors, was charged, along with her boyfriend, Mark Leonard and his brother, Robert Leonard. They were taken into custody early Friday, prosecutors announced.
PHOTOS: Indianapolis neighborhood explosion
Authorities say they released gas into the house and appeared to detonate it with a microwave oven. They had a failed attempted to blow up the house a week before the explosion.
Shirley had recently increased the insurance coverage on her house to $300,000, authorities said.
Police earlier had said they believed the explosion was caused by natural gas, detonated with a remote device.
Shirley's attorney, Randall Cable, didn't return messages left on his office and his cellphone.
Shirley's home and three others were cordoned off after the blast. Officials called the area a crime scene. The blast killed John "Dion" Longworth, 34, and his wife, Jennifer, 36. He was an audio engineer; she was a schoolteacher.
The explosion and subsequent fires damaged more than 80 homes, demolishing five. Prosecutors called it a "thoroughly senseless act."
Shirley, a 47-year-old nurse, told the Indianapolis Star following the Nov. 10 explosion that she and Mark Leonard were at a Lawrenceburg casino on the night their home blew up.
"Everybody's pointing a finger at me like I did something wrong," she told reporters last month during an interview at Cable's office. "I mean, I'm totally devastated like my neighbors are."
But the circumstances surrounding the blast had prosecutors focused on Shirley and the Leonards.
Shirley's daughter, who also lives in the home, was visiting a friend the night of the explosion and their cat had been boarded. The couple also had been in debt and struggling financially.
Last month, investigators announced the case was considered a criminal investigation. Investigators didn't identify a suspect, but at least 20 search warrants had been served. Robert Leonard's home was one of those searched.
Police also took a white van taken into custody after the explosion. The van belonged to Mark Leonard, who is the caretaker at a shuttered Southwestside hotel and convention center.
Some neighbors told police they had seen a white van in the neighborhood and in front of Shirley's house in previous weeks. They said it was a windowless work van, about 15 years old.
After the case was declared a homicide, Cable released a statement saying his clients had requested him to issue this statement "and then ask that they be left alone."
Authorities said the Leonard brothers had done research asking a store clerk about different types of gas. Mark Leonard had changed the thermostat from digital to a slide switch thermostat so that it would ignite a spark, they said.
"Monserrate Shirley and Mark Leonard watched in bewilderment the news report that the authorities are now treating the investigation as a criminal investigation as well as a causation search," the statement read. "The two remain horrified at the tragic events, destruction and loss of lives that occurred and have been cooperating with the authorities since their return to Indianapolis over the weekend."
"They have cooperated fully with various investigators and agencies on multiple occasions and have answered each and every question, including speculation as to whether they may have been targeted by anyone."
In 2007,Shirley and her then-husband, John Shirley, filed jointly for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Court records show they had liabilities of nearly $410,000 and assets of about $316,000.
Among their liabilities were two mortgages on the Fieldfare Way house, on which they owed $225,794. The house's value was listed as $230,000, according to court records.
The house was listed for $149,900 in late 2011 as a possible short sale, but it was pulled off the market in March at the request of the owner, according to real estate listings. The house had a gas furnace and a wood-burning fireplace with a gas starter, according to descriptions.
The couple divorced in February 2011. According to divorce records, Monserrate Shirley, an intensive care nurse, assumed full responsibility for paying the home's mortgage. John Shirley is required to pay $1,000 a month in child support.
Cable said that as far as he knows, Monserrate Shirley is current on her mortgage payments.
Shirley's bankruptcy attorney, John Steinkamp, told The Star last month that the couple lost bankruptcy protection when they prematurely stopped making payments to the trustee.
The case was charged by the prosecutor's office directly, without a grand jury.
There is still an ongoing investigation to see if any other individuals were involved.
Contributing: Indianapolis Star reporters John Russell, Jon Murray and Dana Hunsinger Benbow
The Indianapolis Star