Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Sentenced To Death For The Murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings

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Normal Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Sentenced To Death For The Murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings

Post by lisette on Thu Oct 28, 2010 12:43 pm

Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr. covered his eyes and turned his head as photographs of a blood-soaked crime scene appeared on computer screens around the courtroom.

It's a scene that he's charged with creating.

Tuesday marked the first day of testimony in Gonzalez Jr.'s capital murder trial.

He's charged with home invasion and two counts of first-degree murder in the July 9, 2009 deaths of Byrd and Melanie Billings. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

The second day of the trial saw 14 witnesses take the stand.

The Billingses' oldest daughter, Ashley Markham, was the first to testify. During her brief stint on the stand, she spoke about the phone call she made to her parents' home about 7:15 p.m. the night they died.

Her adopted brother Jake answered the phone and was frantic.

"He was just screaming," she said, on the verge of tears. "I was asking him to let me talk to somebody. I couldn't understand what he was saying."

Her sister, Adrianna, took the phone and Markham told her to find April Spencer, a nurse who lived on the Billings property and helped care for the couple's nine special-needs children.

April Spencer testified about opening the door to her home and finding the distraught Adrianna.

Spencer said she entered the main house and went into the couple's bedroom and made the gruesome discovery. Spencer wept and could hardly speak as she testified to finding her employers — he at the foot of his bed with his arms bound and she on her back in a bedroom closet in a pool of blood.

Spencer rocked back and forth as she testified.

Gonzalez Jr. 'broke'

Witnesses and the prosecution painted Gonzalez Jr. as a nearly destitute, drug-addled man who needed money to raise the six children he shared with his wife, Tabatha.

His business failing and his family's well-being at stake, Gonzalez Jr. recruited six people to help him rob Byrd Billings, a used-car dealer, said State Attorney Bill Eddins in his opening statement.

"He was married, had six children and he had no money," Eddins said. "He was so broke that his mother had to buy him a car, which happened to be a big, red van."
His folly was that he talked too much, Eddins said.

"The proof will show the defendant in this case was not the smartest person in the world," he said.

Tabatha Gonzalez testified that she and her husband did busy work for Pamela Long Wiggins, a Gulf Breeze real estate agent and antique mall owner. Long Wiggins is tied to the robbery because her maroon mini-van was used to transport guns used in the robbery and the small safe taken from the Billingses' home.

Terry Poff, Gonzalez Jr.'s mother, said that her son was struggling financially. She often gave him cash to make ends meet. She bought him the now infamous red van used in the robbery for $300.

"He was about to lose his vehicle," she said, adding later, "He was trying very hard."
Byrd Billings knew Gonzalez Jr.

Markham testified about a meeting between her father and Gonzalez Jr. more than a year before the murders.

Byrd and Melanie Billings ran a used-car dealership and an auto financing company. Around May 2008, Gonzalez Jr. met with Byrd Billings about becoming a partner in his struggling karate studio in Pace.

Tabatha Gonzalez testified that Byrd Billings felt the now defunct business was a "bad investment."

Instead he gave Gonzalez Jr. a $5,000 cash donation to Project FIGHTBACK, a program he and his wife founded to teach self-defense to children and women.

The day ended with two-hours of testimony from Frederick Lee Thornton Jr., one of the young men recruited by Gonzalez Jr. to take part in his robbery.

Step-by-step, Thornton recounted the weeks that led up to the robbery that promised a $13 million fortune hidden somewhere in the Billingses' home that never actually existed.

Defense attorney John Jay Gontarek called the arrest of his client "a rush to judgment."

He said that Gonzalez Jr. was open with former Escambia County Chief Deputy Bill Chavers and tried to help figure out what happened to the Billingses.

When the connection was made to the big red van and the robbery and murders, Gontarek said authorities immediately turned their sights on his client.

"That's when they said, 'red van,'" he said. "This is going to be a great movie script. A humdinger."

The statement was a reference to Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan's post-murder statements that the case was a "humdinger."

Gontarek also implored the jury to give little weight to the testimony of witnesses Frederick Thornton and Rakeem Florence saying the youngest of the men involved in the case had something to gain from their cooperation.

Thornton — who pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in the same case — will undergo cross-examination from Gonzalez Jr.'s attorneys at 9 a.m. today.

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Normal Re: Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Sentenced To Death For The Murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings

Post by Nama on Thu Feb 17, 2011 3:04 pm

Gonzalez Sentenced To Death For Billings Murders
February 17, 2011


An Escambia County judge sentenced Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 36, be put to death for the first degree murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings.
Circuit Judge Nick Geeker sentenced Gonzalez Thursday afternoon on two counts of first degree murder. An Escambia County jury recommended the death penalty 10-2 last October.
Assistant State Attorney John Molchan told an Escambia County jury that Gonzalez planned, organized and then executed the July 9, 2009, robbery and murder of the Billings, who were known for adopting special needs children.
According to testimony, Gonzalez believed he would steal a safe containing $13 million from the Billings home.
The defense rested in the October trial without calling any witnesses.

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Normal Re: Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Sentenced To Death For The Murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings

Post by Guest on Fri Feb 18, 2011 2:51 am

I'm glad that he got what he deserves, and I'm sure this will bring some relief to the family & friends of the victims.

However, I can't help but feel sad that such a nice-looking young man committed such horrible crimes! He not only destroyed the lives of these two wonderful people, but he basically destroyed his life too. Very sad!!

(note: I was thinking that with a last name of Gonzalez, he would look more Mexican, but he looks quite Caucasian)
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