July 31st, 2009
03:56 PM ET

Authorities suspect contracted hit in couple's slaying, source says

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/07/14/florida.couple.slain/art.surveillance.wear.jpg caption="Five masked men entered the Billingses' home on Thursday and left within 10 minutes, police say."]
Ross Levitt and Susan Candiotti

A source with knowledge of the investigation tells CNN the state attorney's office believes there were two motives in the home invasion murder of Florida couple Byrd and Melanie Billings - robbery and a contracted hit.

The Escambia County Sheriff's Office has long said that it believed robbery was the prime motive, but that it would explore all avenues.

The source said the state attorney's office is currently working under the belief that most of the suspects in the case thought they were there for a robbery, but that Leonard Gonzalez Jr., who authorities have described as the organizer of the crime, and other yet-unnamed suspects were plotting a hit on the couple.

The source said that from "Gonzalez down" it was a robbery and that from "Gonzalez up" it was a hit. The source was not sure of the exact motive behind the hit.

The office of State Attorney Bill Eddins declined comment.

Authorities have said the Billingses, who were known for adopting special-needs children, were killed during a home invasion robbery at their Beulah, Florida, home. A small safe containing prescription medication, family documents and some jewelry was taken, and later found in the back yard of a woman who said she was a friend of Gonzalez, authorities have said.

Two sources familiar with the investigation have told CNN that a second safe at the home contained at least $100,000.

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan has said Gonzalez once worked for a car dealership Byrd Billings owned, and court documents state that Gonzalez received financial support from the family for a martial-arts studio that he ran. An attorney representing the Billingses has said that Byrd Billings made a nominal donation to Gonzalez's karate charity.

- Aaron Cooper contributed to this report.

Filed under: 360° Radar • 360º Follow • Crime & Punishment
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. ruki

    360 Radar is a great program which i hate to miss, i would like if this program could also include in its story countries like Sri-Lanka and its conflict and the internally displaced people!

    August 1, 2009 at 1:00 pm |
  2. michael

    It is a shame you not longer can feel safe anywhere, not even in your own home. These murderers should caught and tried and put to death

    July 31, 2009 at 11:34 pm |
  3. Jane

    Here in Pensacola we were privi to the entire news conference. What Sheriff Morgan actually said was that they had receive information that the Billings murders had beren murder for hire. The SO receives information everyday and, as through investigators, they are obliged follow the information that they receive. Sheriff Morgan said just that, his office is following up on a lead. Sheriff did not say that his department had concluded that the crime was indeed "murder for hire". When pressed by reporters he neither confirmed or denied. Please get your facts streight and refrain from embellishment.

    July 31, 2009 at 10:31 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    This story is so bizarre. What would a couple who adopted and parented special needs children (and such a large number of them) do to have a hit contract out on them? And while I am glad they left the children alone, I also wonder why they didn't kill the children too – at least the ones that saw them so they couldn't identify them later. I hope the authorities can explain this case to us soon.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:11 pm |
  5. Teresa, OH

    @heather: people use home safes because they dont want the "powers that be" to know they have ANY money. So they dont use bank accounts where money is trackable to EX-wives or EX-associates who are possibly owed some money. ; ) Many people dont trust banks.

    and, heather, there is NO MAYBE about it, one of the parties of the couple definitely had another side to thier life that has half way been discovered. that still doesnt mean anyone should be killed. no offense to the passed on couple, but I think Byrd ticked someone off way big time.

    July 31, 2009 at 6:24 pm |
  6. Heather,ca

    The mystery of this entire thing is driving me crazy.

    First, I know I can't judge the dead. But had they ever heard of depositing their money in the bank?
    Second, how would these monsters have even known about the money or the safe?
    Most if not all people universally know you never ever discuss personal financial matters like having a bank in your home with anyone.
    Something just doesn't add up. How did the guy in charge even know about the safe with the money? I think they were hoping to just get the right safe , not to kill them. But if they had to they were prepared to. It also makes you wonder if there was a reason for keeping all that money in their home in a safe and not at a bank. Maybe this couple despite their incredible love and devotion to all these children were human after all and had a another side to their life that has yet to be discovered and this thug was part of that.

    Whatever the motive , these children didn't deserve to be punished by be deprived of the love that only parents can give to their children.

    July 31, 2009 at 5:36 pm |