Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Senior, one of the principals in the 2009 slayings of Byrd and Melanie Billings, has died in prison at the age of 62.
As is the case with every inmate death, the Department of Corrections will investigate Gonzalez’ passing, with the Medical Examiner determining the cause of death. DOC spokesman McKinley Lewis says the Inspector General’s Office will also investigate, which is standard procedure.
Gonzalez was serving 17 and a half years for his involvement in the slayings, which occurred at the Billings’ home in Beulah on July 9, 2009.
“Mr. Gonzalez Sr. did have a major role in the case itself,” said State Attorney Bill Eddins. “He hid the van and was planning to re-paint it. When it was discovered, the initial viewpoint was that he was only an accessory after the fact. He indicated that he wanted to talk and tell the truth. When he started talking, he laid out the entire plot.”
In March, the Florida Department of Corrections asked for an early release for Gonzalez, who was wheelchair-bound with a terminal illness and needed assistance to complete ordinary daily activities. Eddins and the Billings’ daughter, Ashley Markham, appeared before the Department of Offender Rehabilitation to oppose his release.
The DOR voted 3-0 to deny the motion and have Gonzalez serve the remainder of his sentence.
Eight people were convicted of planning and participating in the Beulah murders, including Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr, who’s said to be the mastermind behind the crime. In April, the Florida Supreme Court upheld his first-degree murder conviction and death sentence.
The elder Gonzalez’ 17 and a half year term, says Eddins, could have been longer without his cooperation in the third trial of another defendant, Donnie Stallworth. The former Air Force sergeant was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. Mistrials were declared in the first two proceedings when the juries deadlocked.
“We changed our approach in the third trial, and eliminated one of the young witnesses whose credibility had been severely impeached and instead used Gonzalez Sr. to testify,” Eddins said. “His credibility was better, and I feel like that was a significant factor in our ability to convict Stallworth.”
Stallworth received two consecutive life sentences.
The Department of Offender Rehabilitation also rejected a second defendant’s motion for early release in the Billings case. Pamela Long Wiggins, who is also said to be terminally ill, is serving 28 years as an accessory after the fact.