[UPDATE] Jury Recommends Death in Florida Ninja Slaying

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

*** UPDATE 10-29-2010 2:58 PM ***

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) --

A jury has recommended that a karate instructor get the death penalty for murdering a wealthy Florida couple while their nine special-needs children cowered or slept nearby.

The jurors voted 10-2 Friday that Patrick Gonzalez Jr. be
executed for last year's murder of Byrd and Melanie Billings in
their Florida Panhandle home.

Under Florida law, Judge Nicholas Geeker will impose the
sentence later but must give the jury's recommendation "great
weight."

Gonzalez is a 36-year-old father of six.

Gonzalez's coconspirators testified that he told them that a
safe in the home contained $13 million.

The invaders did steal a safe but it contained nothing of value.
A second safe they missed contained $164,000.

-------------------------

*** UPDATE 10-29-2010 11:15 AM ***

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) --

A karate instructor convicted of leading a group of men who killed a wealthy Florida couple reluctantly agreed to let his family testify at a hearing on whether he should get the death penalty.

Patrick Gonzalez Jr. originally didn't want his wife and mother
to testify at Friday's hearing but relented after a brief meeting
with his attorneys.

Gonzalez told Judge Nicholas Geeker he had been "tried and
convicted" by the press and didn't want his relatives subjected to
media scrutiny.

Gonzalez's mother later testified that her son was diagnosed as
child with a behavior disorder.

The jury that convicted Gonzalez on Thursday, October 28 of killing Byrd and Melanie Billings will now recommend to Geeker whether he should impose the death penalty or a life sentence.

----------------------------

*** UPDATE 10-28-2010 9:45 PM ***

Pensacola, FL - Jurors have convicted a karate instructor
of killing a wealthy Florida couple during a home invasion robbery
while the couple's nine special-needs children cowered or slept
nearby.

The Pensacola jury deliberated about five hours Thursday before
finding Patrick Gonzalez Jr. guilty of two counts of first-degree
murder and one count of home invasion robbery. Prosecutors say he
led the July 9, 2009, attack by a group of armed men that dressed
as ninjas to attack Byrd and Melanie Billings.

Gonzalez is a 36-year-old father of six. He now faces a sentence
of death or life in prison.

A safe taken from the family's home contained nothing of value,
but a second safe that wasn't stolen had $164,000 in cash.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

------------------------------------------

*** UPDATE 10-28-2010 5:05 PM ***

Pensacola, FL (AP) - A Pensacola jury has begun deliberating
the fate of the alleged ringleader in the home-invasion and
slayings of a Panhandle couple.

The jury of 11 women and one man began deliberating late
Thursday after attorneys for Patrick Gonzalez Jr. announced
Thursday morning they would call no defense witnesses on behalf of
the former karate instructor and 36-year-old father of six.

Gonzalez could face the death penalty if convicted of leading a
group of masked and armed men, dressed entirely in black, into the
couple's home in a botched plan to steal a cash-filled safe. Nine
of Byrd and Melanie Billings' young children were at home when
their parents were killed.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

-----------------------------------------------------

*** UPDATE 10-28-2010 12:20pm ***

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) --

Defense attorneys in the double-murder trial of the alleged ringleader in the home-invasion and slayings of a Panhandle couple have decided to not call witnesses on the man's behalf.

Attorneys for Patrick Gonzalez Jr. announced Thursday morning (Oct. 28) they would call no defense witnesses on behalf of the former karate instructor and 36-year-old father of six.

"Your honor, the witnesses the state has called are fine with
me," Gonzalez said when the judge asked if he agreed with the
defense strategy.

Gonzalez could face the death penalty if convicted of leading a
group of masked and armed men, dressed entirely in black, into the
couple's home in a botched plan to steal a cash-filled safe. Nine
of Byrd and Melanie Billings' young children were at home when
their parents were killed.

-----------------------------------------------

*** UPDATE 10-28-2010 7:45am ***

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) --

The alleged ringleader in the home-invasion and murders of a Panhandle couple told investigators a group of used car dealers with underworld connections wanted the husband "whacked."

An investigator testified in the double-murder trial of Patrick
Gonzalez Jr. on Thursday, October 28 about his interview with Gonzalez days after the 2009 slayings of Byrd and Melanie Billings.

Prosecutors say Gonzalez and four other masked and armed men,
dressed entirely in black, burst into the couple's home in a
botched plan to steal a cash-filled safe. Nine of Byrd and Melanie
Billings' young children were at home when their parents were
killed.

Gonzalez faces the death penalty if convicted.

-----------------------

*** UPDATE 10-26-2010 ***

Pensacola, FL (AP) - A man who has pleaded guilty to
second-degree murder in the deaths of a Florida couple says the
accused ringleader of the botched robbery shot the couple to death.

Frederick Lee Thornton Jr. testified on Tuesday in the trial of
Patrick Gonzalez Jr., who is accused of orchestrating the bungled
2009 robbery. Gonzalez is accused of leading a group of men to the
home in a misguided attempt to steal a safe they believed was
filled with cash.

Gonzalez could face the death penalty if convicted.

The 20-year-old Thornton told jurors that Gonzalez recruited him
to join the group. He says Gonzalez supplied him with a shotgun,
black clothing and boots.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

---------------------------------------------

[UPDATE] 10-26 2:15pm -- PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) --

The adult daughter of wealthy Florida couple had a frantic telephone call with a younger sibling who was unable to talk as their parents were being killed by armed intruders.

Ashley Markham testified Tuesday, Oct. 26 saying she told the boy to
hand the phone to another of the couple's nine adopted children
with special needs, a young girl.

Markham also said she told the girl to run to home to of a nurse
who lived on the property and call for help.

Earlier Tuesday, a prosecutor told the jury the ringleader
accused of killing Byrd and Melanie Billings was desperate for cash
and hatched the plan in hopes of stealing millions from a home
safe.

State Attorney Bill Eddins said in opening statements that
36-year-old Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Junior mistakenly thought the
couple kept millions at their home. Gonzalez faces a possible death
sentence if convicted of killing the couple.

------------------------

[UPDATE] 10-26 11:10am -- PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) --

A prosecutor says the alleged ringleader in the home-invasion, murders and botched robbery of a wealthy Florida Panhandle couple was desperate for cash and hatched the plan in hopes of stealing millions of dollars.

In opening statements in the trial of 36-year-old Leonard
Patrick Gonzalez Jr., State Attorney Bill Eddins said Tuesday
morning, Oct. 26 that Gonzalez mistakenly thought Byrd and Melanie Billings kept millions in a home safe.

Gonzalez faces a possible death sentence if convicted of killing
the couple.

The Billings were known for adopting nine children with varying
special needs ranging from Down syndrome to fetal alcohol syndrome.
The children were at home when their parents were killed.

----------------------------------

[UPDATE] 10-25 9:55am --

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) --

A karate instructor is set to go on trial in Florida for the 2009 home robbery and shooting deaths of a wealthy Panhandle couple with nine special-needs children in the house.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday, October 25 in the trial of
Leonard Gonzalez Jr. Authorities say he organized the robbery with
accomplices dressed as ninjas and fatally shot Byrd and Melanie
Billings as their children cowered or slept nearby.

Gonzalez's attorneys had asked Circuit Judge Nick Geeker to move
the trial outside Pensacola because of widespread publicity.

But Geeker ruled that he must first try to seat a jury from his
Panhandle circuit before considering relocating the trial.

-----------------------------

August 19, 2009 --

PENSACOLA, Fla. — The Florida State Attorney's Office on Tuesday released transcripts of two interviews between Escambia County sheriff's investigators and a man Sheriff David Morgan has called a "person of interest" in the July 9 murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings.

In the July 11 statements, Henry "Cab" Tice, 61, a used car salesman, said he knew the lead suspect, Patrick Leonard Gonzalez Jr. as well as the Billingses, because of their involvement in the used-car business.

The transcripts also bore out Morgan's statements on Aug. 6 that Tice claimed "a father-son relationship" with Gonzalez and that Tice said he had business dealings with what he called the "Mexican mafia."

However, Tice said the relationship with Gonzalez was "like the wayward child that you always want to try to be a good influence on his life."

He also said that he did not initially know that a man that he borrowed money from had supposedly gotten it from the Mexican mafia.

Tice is not charged in the murders.

His statements are confusing and bounce in numerous directions but do not suggest any specific ties among Tice, Gonzalez and Billings in regard to the murders.

Gonzalez and six others face first-degree murder and home invasion charges. A woman is charged as an accessory after the fact.

Tice is charged with grand theft in relationship to accusations that he wrote worthless checks totaling more than $10,000 to Worldco Financial Services Inc., a company owned by the Billings family.

In the July 11 statement to investigators, Tice says he borrowed $20,000 in cash from a former employee as his business, Hispanic American Auto Sales, was failing.

When Hispanic American closed, Tice said the man inferred he had gotten the money from cousins in Atlanta in the Mexican restaurant business who were "members of the Mexican mafia."

Tice said the man told him that the mafia members "won't kill you but they'll kill your family and we've got to get them this money."

Also, Tice said, the employee told Byrd Billings and Tice's ex-wife that Tice was in debt to the Mexican mafia in an effort to get those people to reinforce to Tice that he needed to pay back the money.

"Bud said, you know, 'I can't believe you got in such a bind you borrowed money from the Mexican mafia and you know how dangerous these people are and you know what they'll do,' " Tice said.

Tice said he has been repaying the money in installments, and the debt is whittled to $1,500. He said the man has been to see him several times for further payment.

"I've seen him a couple of times this month because he came by to get, to collect it and I didn't pay it, and then he came by here the other day and I still didn't pay him," he said.


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