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Judge to decide fate of blast suspects

– A judge said Wednesday she will take more time to decide whether three people charged in a fatal explosion that ravaged an Indianapolis subdivision can be given life prison sentences if convicted.

During a hearing in Marion County Court, Judge Sheila Carlisle asked lawyers for both sides whether they would oppose her taking longer than the 30-day limit to determine whether Indiana law allows Monserrate Shirley; her boyfriend, Mark Leonard; and his brother, Bob Leonard, to be sentenced to life in prison without parole if they are convicted.

The three face charges of murder and arson in the Nov. 10 blast that killed two people and caused about $4.5 million in damage to dozens of homes in the Richmond Hill subdivision, including 33 that had to be torn down.

Investigators say Shirley and the Leonards rigged a gas explosion in Shirley’s home in hopes of collecting insurance money. Next-door neighbors John and Jennifer Longworth died after the explosion ignited another blast that resulted in a fire at their house.

The three were originally charged with felony murder – causing a death by committing another crime, even if the death is unintentional. But prosecutors later changed that charge to murder and filed a motion seeking a sentence of life without parole.