April 11, 2014
The Florida Supreme Court unanimously upheld the conviction and death sentence for the man authorities said masterminded the robbery and killings of Byrd and Melanie Billings nearly five years ago.
Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 40, was convicted in 2010 of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of home invasion robbery with a firearm.
Gonzalez led a group of men who forced their way into the Billings home in Beulah in July 2009 and gunned down the couple during an attempted robbery. The Billingses had 17 children, 13 of them adopted. Nine of the children were home at the time of the killing.
On Feb. 17, 2011, Circuit Judge Nicholas Geeker followed a jury recommendation and sentenced Gonzalez to death.
In imposing the death sentence, Geeker found as aggravating factors that Gonzalez had a conviction for a prior violent felony, that the murder was committed during the course of a robbery, and his crimes were heinous, atrocious and cruel.
In upholding the conviction, the state Supreme Court found that the convictions were supported by competent, substantial evidence, according to the State Attorney’s Office.
“We’re very pleased with the decision and the court’s opinion on the sentence and use of the death penalty,” said Assistant State Attorney John Molchan, who prosecuted Gonzalez along with State Attorney Bill Eddins.
Although Gonzalez’s direct appeal was denied, he still can attempt to have his conviction or sentence overturned.
Gonzalez has the option to seek post-conviction relief, a review of whether deficiencies in his attorney’s performance led to Gonzalez’s conviction. He also can file a petition for a U.S. District Court to review the case, which could overturn the conviction or overturn his sentence.