Ninja ringleader guilty of murder

Oct. 29, 2010 at 1:01 AM
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PENSACOLA, Fla., Oct. 29 (UPI) -- A jury Thursday night convicted the ringleader of a band of ninja-like robbers in the 2009 slayings of a Florida couple.

The penalty phase begins Friday in which the panel will decide whether to recommend Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 36, be sent to prison or to his death for murdering Byrd and Melanie Billings, the Pensacola News Journal reported.

The jury deliberated about 5 hours before finding Gonzalez guilty on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of home invasion. The verdict followed three days of testimony.

The Billingses were the parents of 17 children, 13 of them adopted and several with special needs. Nine were home at the time of the July 2009 break-in and killings.

Authorities said Gonzalez was a down-on-his-luck businessman who put together a gang with the goal of robbing the Billingses, who he thought had a safe containing $13 million in their Beulah home. The robbers were outfitted in black clothing like martial arts fighters depicted in movies when they staged the robbery, authorities said.

Seven others were charged in the home invasion.

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