Defendant in Indiana house explosion gets maximum 50 years

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indiana judge sentenced a woman Tuesday to 50 years in prison for her role in a deadly Indianapolis house explosion, which prosecutors say stemmed from a plot to collect insurance money.

Monserrate Shirley, 51, was one of five people charged in the explosion that left two people dead. Shirley had earlier cooperated in providing testimony against alleged co-conspirators but received the maximum prison sentence available to the judge.

Shirley, who sentencing stretched over two days because of a large number of people who wished to give victim-impact statements, also addressed the hearing and tearfully apologized to the family of the couple who died, Jennifer and John Longworth.

"This is something that will be in my heart forever," she said.

Shirley pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit arson in the November 2012 natural gas explosion that destroyed her home, killed a couple who lived next door and damaged or destroyed 80 homes. She faced between a minimum 20-year suspended sentence with probation and the maximum 50-year prison term.

The Marion County prosecutor, Terry Curry, welcomed the sentence.

"Ms. Shirley ultimately took responsibility for her actions by pleading guilty and provided important information during the investigation," the prosecutor said in a statement. But Curry added: "No one involved in this investigation or prosecution will forget the stories of this tragedy and the continuing fear and trauma that it caused to the survivors."

Shirley's defense attorney said she should have received a lesser sentence, arguing that she was coerced by her then-boyfriend. Prosecutors say Shirley, her ex-boyfriend, his half-brother and two other people were involved in a plot to destroy Shirley's home to collect $300,000 in insurance money.

Among those testifying on Monday was Glenn Olvey, who lost his home to the explosion.

"That day not only changed me, it changed my children, it changed my wife, it changed everything," he told the packed courtroom.

The explosion trapped Olvey, his wife and one of their two teenage daughters when their home's roof collapsed.

WTHR-TV reports that Olvey told reporters after his testimony that he had tried to lock eyes with Shirley as he was leaving the stand. Olvey said he wanted to ask his former neighbor, "How could you do something like this?"