Testimony turns to gunshot wounds, recruiting in Pensacola murder trial

PENSACOLA — A medical examiner stuck knitting needles in human-sized cushioned dummies Wednesday to show jurors where nine gunshots struck a Pensacola-area couple that was slain in a botched home invasion and robbery at the couple's house.

Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., a 36-year-old karate instructor and father of six, could get the death penalty if convicted of orchestrating the attack on Byrd and Melanie Billings and being the triggerman. The Billings' nine adopted children were at home when their parents were killed July 9, 2009. The children, ranging in age from 4 to 11, all have varying special needs such as fetal alcohol syndrome and Down syndrome.

A prosecutor helped Medical Examiner Andrea Minyard stick needles in one dummy to show where five gunshots struck Byrd Billings — one in each leg, one through his cheek and two in the back of his head. Prosecutors used a second dummy to show the four wounds on Melanie Billings — one through her right eyebrow, one through her nose and two in her chest.

Earlier Wednesday, a teenager who said he joined the men in the home invasion testified that he did not know anyone in the group intended to kill the Billings. Rakeem Florence, who was 16 during the robbery, also said he did not know the couple had children in the home.

Florence testified that he and four other men barged through different doors. They dressed in black and wore combat boots, ski masks and goggles. Florence carried an AK 47, but he testified that he didn't know how to use it.

Florence, who has entered a plea agreement, faces life in prison on two counts of second-degree murder. He said he hopes the judge will reduce his sentence in exchange for his testimony against Gonzalez and others.

Tuesday, another co-defendant who has entered a plea agreement told jurors that Gonzalez recruited the members of the group and told them a safe in the Billings' home contained $13 million that Billings obtained from working for the Mexican mafia.

The safe that was taken from the family's home contained nothing of value, but a second safe that wasn't stolen had $164,000 in cash, court records show.

Prosecutors told jurors that they expected to end their case early today.

Testimony turns to gunshot wounds, recruiting in Pensacola murder trial 10/27/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 27, 2010 11:47pm]

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