July 21st, 2009
05:15 PM ET

Suspects rehearsed attack on Florida couple, sheriff says

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/07/21/florida.slain.couple/art.gonzalez.jr.jpg caption="Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 35, is one of seven people charged with murder in the July 9 killings."]


Suspects in the slaying of a Florida couple known for adopting special-needs children did a dry run of the attack at the victims' home about a month before storming the residence, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said.

The information was one of many new revelations about the July 9 murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings of Beulah, Florida.

The suspected mastermind of the slaying has told authorities he knew the victims and received financial support from them for a martial arts studio he ran, according to court documents.

Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 35, is one of seven people charged with murder in connection with the couple's death. An affidavit linked to a search warrant for Gonzalez's van noted the connection between him and the couple.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Crime & Punishment
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. luke cooper

    God have mercy on leonard gonzalez because the state of florida will not!

    July 22, 2009 at 3:07 am |
  2. luke cooper

    God have mercy on leonard gonzalez because the state of florida won't !

    July 22, 2009 at 3:06 am |
  3. Bonita of New York

    I don't understand why people continue to keep large sums of money in their home.

    July 22, 2009 at 2:42 am |
  4. Judd

    someone or the congressman was saying that MJ was a freak. No, this is what I called freak! when a group of individuals went into a home of special needs chilren and kids and killed their parents – that was absolute freak! Leave MJ alone as he rests in peace forever.

    July 22, 2009 at 1:07 am |
  5. Lydia

    Why doesn't anyone (CNN) talk about where the Billing's money (sordid) came from? It's always the delicate "couple who adopted 17 kids with special needs". They clearly needed a "compound" with indoor and outdoor surveillance and were involved with "adult" entertainment.

    July 21, 2009 at 10:50 pm |
  6. Kevin

    I believe the reason the couple was killed was because they knew the attacker who ever knew them should be the one executed. why? because first of all the rehearsal of the crime and knowing of the locationg came from someone and it had to be who ever knew the Billings or had to have been inside the home. Now with that amount of people going into that house and killing both adults, they had to believe for some reason that it was more involved and they were to look out. But what if the other guys involved was used as tools because they were lead to believe that they were doing a job and would be given a large sum of money, now giving this economy and allowing guns in people hands even if they are crazy they carry, they need money they will do anything to get it and it want stop there. Adding guns to more crazy people will only allow more criminals to kill on the drop of a dime. Why? most people who have guns will not really shot another but pull on the wrong person you get shot. so this crime is just the beginning of many to come because of certain people insecurity! Our blessing to the Billings Family

    July 21, 2009 at 10:43 pm |
  7. james


    they had plenty of money. They didn't need any money from the state....
    you have to read a little more to get all the information that's out there before you post stuff that people will slam you for ...IMHO

    July 21, 2009 at 10:20 pm |
  8. Annie Kate

    We need to let the police do their investigation and interview them at the end of the investigation instead of every day; that has to be intrusive and time wasting for the police. Let the Escambia police arrest the ones that need arresting and turn it over to the DA – the DA probably would be more forthcoming about a motive, etc.

    July 21, 2009 at 9:38 pm |
  9. Kathleen

    Eugenia, I feel very sad for you. Your implication is that IF the foster father was involved in crime, and IF the foster parents took in children for anything less than purely saintly reasons, we should not feel as grieved for their deaths, or worse yet for the deaths of these children. NO ONE deserves to die by a planned murder. These were someone's sister, dauther; someone's brother and son. These children were still children, just as my children are children, who wanted to be held, and loved. What is wrong with you, with anyone in our society, who can "rate" the value of a another human life based on some system they devise? I do not normally read any of these boards, and I'm glad I don't, because this type of attitude sickens me. It is what allows our young people to think nothing of using handguns against one another, or even of doing things as stupid as keying cars in anger. What happened to respect for one another?
    We all count, Eugenia.

    July 21, 2009 at 8:53 pm |
  10. Kristine

    Brutal or ignorant? The Billings, besides being a very loving couple were a blessing to raise these kids. Many "special needs" children cost significantly more to raise than the average child. Hardly a money maker. Do you (Eugenia) honestly believe that the State of Florida's adoption assistance payments made them that wealthy?

    State assistance for special needs adoptions mainly covers the childs medical expenses, which can be astronomical. I'm sure their personal finances were used to cover the deficit. In other words, raising these kids causes financial loss, not revenue!

    July 21, 2009 at 8:22 pm |
  11. Eugenia - San Francisco

    Like I said my comment was brutal, but I have seen some pretty brutal things in my 38 years concerning adults and children. The one thing I have come away with, is that people can truly surprise and shock you with the things they do. When it gets to the point when you are no longer surprised or shock, it is easier to have these views. If I'm wrong, I did and do apologize. Anna is my daughter's name.

    July 21, 2009 at 7:19 pm |
  12. Andy

    Check your facts Eugenia; anyone who adopts children for a gov't stipend hasn't done the math. One spends far more money caring for a child, especially one with special needs, than is actually covered by any gov't allocation.

    July 21, 2009 at 7:09 pm |
  13. charmichael

    How much training and rehearsing do you need to walk into a house and shoot a couple while they sleep?

    It took them a month of pseudo-ninja training with a Rambo-wanna-be who teaches self-defense (of all things...) to children to be able to "break into" (the door was unlocked) a house, shoot the Billings point blank (um...why?) and steal a safe with nothing but documents, the kids' prescription medications and some jewelry "of sentimental value" (that is, nothing fancy). One of Gonzalez's self-defense students could've carried out this operation with half his brain tied behind the back.

    Furthermore, by killing the Billings for (so far) no reason–seven people should be able to rob a house without killing anyone–these trigger-happy ninjas added first-degree murder charges to what would've amounted to home invasion and armed robbery. Genius.

    Charmichael in Houston

    July 21, 2009 at 7:01 pm |
  14. anna

    I help with the special need kids for the last three years I have some who die and lots go on to a better home or to live on there own . The Billings were special people who loved kids there should be alot more like them , but how can one say anything against them is it is unreal. to me . Get your facts straight Eugenia. Live isn't always a bowl of cheeries . These kids didn't love instead of being left to die in a home.

    July 21, 2009 at 6:14 pm |
  15. Eugenia - San Francisco

    I think the Billings couple should be looked at more closely. The 3 children that died, that should be looked at too. I understand that they were special needs children and that they probably had health issues but so many times people take in "foster children" just for the government assistant. I have a feeling that the husband and Gonzalez or some of the suspects had done some con jobs in the past together. That's my opinion and I apologize if it is brutal.

    July 21, 2009 at 5:22 pm |