PENSACOLA — A karate instructor was convicted Thursday of leading a group of armed men dressed as ninjas to rob and kill a wealthy Florida couple while their nine special-needs children cowered or slept nearby.
The Pensacola jury deliberated about five hours before finding Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 36, guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of home-invasion robbery. During the four-day trial, prosecutors argued he led the July 9, 2009, attack on Byrd and Melanie Billings.
The 25 family members in the courtroom hugged and some wiped away tears. Gonzalez did not react to the verdict and as deputies fingerprinted him before leading him away, he did not appear to acknowledge the family. Lawyers whisked the family out of a back door without speaking to reporters.
Jurors today will decide whether Gonzalez gets death or life in prison.
The robbers that night took a safe that contained nothing of value, but a second safe that wasn't stolen had $164,000 in cash, court records show.
Two men who were 19 and 16 during the 2009 home invasions testified against Gonzalez.
Both men face life in prison and have entered plea agreements with prosecutors in exchange for their testimony. The men said they entered the home with others but Gonzalez was the triggerman.
The men said Gonzalez told the group a safe in the home contained $13 million that Billings obtained by working for the Mexican mafia.