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Cameras at slain Panhandle couple's home recorded crime as 8 of their 16 children slept

PENSACOLA. — A 56-year-old man was charged with evidence tampering Sunday in connection with the slaying of a wealthy Florida couple known for adopting children with developmental disabilities, the Escambia County sheriff said.

Leonard P. Gonzalez Sr. is accused of trying to paint over and hide damage on a red van that surveillance video spotted leaving the Florida Panhandle home where Byrd and Melanie Billings were shot to death Thursday while eight of their children, ages 8 to 14, slept.

Sheriff David Morgan said at a news conference Sunday that he expects more arrests, but he did not provide additional details.

"At this time we are looking at multiple persons of interest," he said. "We are very anxious to share this story. … It's going to be a humdinger, I'll tell you that."

Gonzalez, who did not own the van, was still being interviewed Sunday evening, and his bail was set at $250,000. A message seeking comment was left at a phone number listed for him in the Pensacola area.

The Billingses were killed in their nine-bedroom home in a rural area near the Alabama state line. The house had an extensive surveillance system that authorities said captured three apparently experienced criminals swiftly slipping into the house before driving off in a red van.

Tips from the public led police to the van Saturday.

Officials still haven't said why the family was targeted. Police also have not said whether anything was stolen from the home.

The Billingses were a prominent couple who owned several businesses and had 16 children, 12 of them adopted.

The house was carefully designed to accommodate the children, according to a 2005 story in the Pensacola News Journal. Cameras are in every room, and the driveway is long to keep children from running into the street. A large swimming pool behind the house is gated.

The couple told the newspaper they didn't imagine their family would grow so large. "It just happened," Melanie Billings said. "I just wanted to give them a better life."

Morgan pledged Sunday to find those responsible for the killings.

"This investigation will expand much larger than anyone had anticipated," he said. "I can promise you in coming days we will have many more arrests."

Cameras at slain Panhandle couple's home recorded crime as 8 of their 16 children slept 07/12/09 [Last modified: Sunday, July 12, 2009 11:05pm]
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