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Leonard Gonzalez Sr. Denied Early Parole

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One of the principals in the slayings of Byrd and Melanie Billings will remain in prison. Leonard Gonzalez Sr.s motion for early parole went before the Florida Commission on Offender Review on Wednesday.

On a 3-0 vote, the Commission decided that the 62-year-old Gonzalez will continue to serve his 17 and a half year sentence. State Attorney Bill Eddins, one of the chief prosecutors in Gonzalez’ case, says the Department of Corrections had requested the early release.

“Because he had a year or less to live, and he was in a wheelchair and needed assistance with activities of daily living,” Eddins said. “Of course, we oppose that early release. I feel that he should be required to serve out his entire prison sentence, or as long as he’s alive.”

Byrd and Melanie Billings were robbed and shot to death inside their home in Beulah on July 9th, 2009. Three days later, in an interview with Escambia County investigators, the elder Gonzalez admitted to being in one of the getaway vehicles. He entered a no contest plea to first degree murder charges in 2011, and testified against two other defendants in exchange for the lighter sentence.

There is no appeal of decisions by the FCOR. Those speaking out against Gonzalez’ included Assistant State Attorney John Molchan, who also prosecuted the case, and the victims’ daughter Ashley Markham. Eddins says they felt Gonzalez was not eligible for early release.

“This procedure is used primarily to release non-violent, elderly prisoners who are near the end of their life,” said Eddins. “It is unusual for this procedure to be used to release violent offenders.”

In all, eight people were convicted for planning and taking part in the in the murders of the Billings and the related crimes, including Gonzalez, Sr.’s son. Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. was convicted as the triggerman. He’s currently on Florida’s death row; the others are serving sentences of various lengths.