Video aired in court Tuesday showed a team of masked men dressed like ninjas break into a Florida home — with one of those men singling out Leonard Gonzalez Jr. as the group’s ringleader who held a gun over Byrd Billings and shot him.Gonzalez, 35, is on trial for first-degree murder, with prosecutors alleging he and six others donned black masks and clothes before creeping into a Beulah, Florida, home on July 9, 2009, and killing Melanie and Byrd Billings execution-style.The Billingses had 16 cameras around their home, set up to keep tabs on the 13 special-needs children for whom they cared. Nine of the children were home during the invasion.One of the videos aired in court Tuesday shows the scene from one girl’s bedroom as a red van packed with people arrives outside the house. The girl gets up out of bed as the masked men enter the house, then hides under the covers pretending to sleep after hearing the commotion nearby.Another camera depicts several people in a room, including a shirtless Byrd Billings and his wife. One man hovers over Byrd, gun in hand, and shoots him twice in the leg before leading Byrd and Melanie Billings upstairs. Frederick Thornton, who has plead guilty to second-degree murder for his role in the invasion, identified the shooter in the video as Gonzalez.
It was in the master bedroom, prosecutors say, that Gonzalez fatally shot the couple as one of their special-needs children watched from inside the room.Earlier Tuesday, Tony Eisa testified that he had turned down Gonzalez’ request to be the getaway driver for the scheme.Prosecutors contend that the testimony of Eisa and others offering similar stories prove Gonzalez actively recruited people to be part of his plan, thus making him guilty of premeditated murder.”He wanted me to be the getaway driver,” said Eisa, recalling that Gonzalez was sweating and “looked like he was up doing drugs.”I put my hand around the back of his neck, and escorted him out the door.”
The defendant’s wife, Tabitha Gonzalez, testified that the family’s business, a karate school, had gone under. Prosecutors argue this indicates that financial gain was Leonard Gonzalez’s overriding motive, as he headed the team plotting to steal the Billings family’s safe, which they believed contained as much as $13 million.A small safe containing prescription medication, family documents and some jewelry was taken from the house, and later was found in the backyard of a woman who said she was a friend of Gonzalez, authorities have said. Two sources familiar with the investigation told CNN that a second safe at the home contained at least $100,000.
“He was so broke … that his mother had to buy him a car, which turned out to be a big red van that was used in the murders,” prosecutor Bill Eddins said in his opening statements of Gonzalez, who had six children with Tabitha.Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan has said Gonzalez once worked for a car dealership that Byrd Billings owned, and court documents state that Gonzalez received financial support from the family for his martial-arts studio.The Billings were known for their efforts caring for special needs children. A tearful Ashley Markham, the couple’s daughter, testified Tuesday that she talked to one of those children minutes after her parents died.
“He was just screaming into the phone,” she recalled.Of the eight people arrested in the case, seven males faced charges of murder and home invasion robbery. Two of them have already pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges. The woman is accused of being an accessory after the fact.The remaining males, including a 16-year-old charged as an adult, have pleaded not guilty to the charges.The trial in Escambia County Circuit Court in Pensacola is expected to last three to four days. If convicted, Gonzalez could be sentenced to death – Cnn