Gonzalez v. State

Decision Date10 April 2014
Docket NumberNo. SC11–475.,SC11–475.
Citation136 So.3d 1125
PartiesLeonard Patrick GONZALEZ, Jr., Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court


J. Rafael Rodriguez, Specially Appointed Public Defender, Miami, FL, for Appellant.

Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and Carolyn M. Snurkowski, Associate Deputy Attorney General, Tallahassee, FL, for Appellee.


Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr., appeals his convictions of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of home invasion robbery with a firearm and his corresponding sentences of death and life imprisonment. We have jurisdiction. Seeart. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. For the reasons stated below, we affirm the convictions and sentences.


Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. (Gonzalez) was charged with two counts of first-degree premeditated murder in the shooting deaths of Byrd and Melanie Billings in their Escambia County home on the evening of July 9, 2009. Gonzalez was also charged with armed home invasion robbery for this incident. Gonzalez and four other men—Frederick Thornton, Rakeem Florence, Donnie Stallworth, and Wayne Coldiron—invaded the Billings' home at three different entry points with the intent to steal a safe that purportedly contained $13 million. The men wore black clothing, masks, and gloves and were carrying firearms. Florence carried an AK–47, Stallworth and Thornton had shotguns, Coldiron had a .357 revolver, and Gonzalez carried a nine-millimeter automatic pistol. Three others-Leonard Gonzalez, Sr., Gary Sumner, and Pamela Long–Wiggins—also had roles in the crimes. Gonzalez, Sr., remained in Gonzalez's large red van outside of the Billings' home. Sumner stayed out on the highway in a Ford Explorer, communicating with Gonzalez via walkie-talkie. Long–Wiggins participated after the fact by hiding the safe taken from the Billings' home and either hiding or disposing of the weapons used in the home invasion. The men did not know that the Billings had a surveillance system in their house in order to monitor their nine adopted children who have various disabilities. That surveillance system captured some of the events during the invasion, including the Billings being accosted in their living room, and provided a view of Gonzalez's red van parked outside of the home. However, there was no camera in the Billings' master bedroom where the fatal shots were fired.

Two of the participants in the crimes, Thornton and Florence, told their families that they knew about the murders because they had accompanied some men in a van to the house to buy “weed,” but never entered the house and did not know that anything was going to happen until they heard the shots and saw the men run out of the house. At the urging of their families, Thornton and Florence turned themselvesin to law enforcement. When the police confronted the men with evidence from the surveillance video, Thornton and Florence admitted that their initial stories were false and confessed to their involvement in the crimes. Both men testified that Gonzalez was the individual who planned the crimes. He solicited the others to participate in the home invasion robbery in order to get $13 million that he believed the Billings kept in the safe. The group met several times at Fifth Dimensions, a car body shop in Fort Walton Beach owned by Sumner. As the plans progressed, they also met at Gonzalez, Sr.'s trailer in Pensacola. Gonzalez would contact Sumner, who would then contact Thornton, Florence, and Stallworth, to gather for these meetings.

On the day of the murders, the group was contacted and drove in Stallworth's Explorer to a Wal–Mart in Gulf Breeze to meet Gonzalez. Gonzalez was driving a red minivan that belonged to Long–Wiggins. Sumner, Stallworth, and Gonzalez went into the Wal–Mart, and Thornton and Florence remained in the Explorer in the parking lot. A security video from the Wal–Mart places Sumner, Stallworth, and Gonzalez inside the store on July 9 at 3:30 p.m., where they purchased a pair of boots. The men then drove in the two vehicles to Gonzalez, Sr.'s house, where Coldiron was also present.

Gonzalez provided the weapons, black clothing, masks, and gloves that the participants used in the crimes. Gonzalez showed the others pictures and a layout of the Billings' home and gave them their assignments. He told Thornton and Florence to enter through a door on the far left of the home, Stallworth to enter through the front door, and Coldiron to enter with Gonzalez through a sliding glass door in the master bedroom. Gonzalez showed the others how to use zip ties to secure the victims' hands and passed out the ties. He remained in charge after the participants entered the Billings' home.

Gonzalez accosted Mr. Billings and demanded that Mr. Billings tell him where the money was located. When Mr. Billings replied that he did not have any money, Gonzalez fired a shot into the floor. Gonzalez repeated the same question and received the same response from Mr. Billings. Gonzalez then shot Mr. Billings in the leg. Gonzalez repeated the question again, received the same response, and shot Mr. Billings in the other leg. Gonzalez then led the Billings into the master bedroom. Thornton and Florence's testimony about the events inside the house was consistent with the surveillance video. According to Thornton's account, the Billings, Gonzalez, and Stallworth were in the bedroom. While Thornton retrieved duffel bags from the van outside, he heard three more shots. When Thornton returned to the bedroom, he saw Mr. Billings lying face down on the floor in a pool of blood. Gonzalez then asked Mrs. Billings to open the safe in the closet of the bedroom. Thornton saw Gonzalez fire the gun again, but could not see Mrs. Billings. According to Florence's account, only Gonzalez was in the bedroom with the Billings when the shots were fired. Gonzalez then ordered the others to take the safe and leave. When Florence entered the bedroom to retrieve the safe, he saw Mr. Billings lying on the floor, but could not see Mrs. Billings.

The group left in Gonzalez's large red van, then met up with Sumner in the Explorer. The safe and guns were transferred to the Explorer. Gonzalez told Gonzalez, Sr. and Coldiron to drive the large red van back to Gonzalez, Sr.'s house in Pensacola. The others got into the Explorer, removed their black clothing, and drove to a location where they had left Long–Wiggins' red minivan before the crimes were carried out. Gonzalez, Sumner, and Stallworth drove the red minivan back to the Pensacola area. Thornton and Florence returned in the Explorer and met with the others in the red minivan at the Wal–Mart in Gulf Breeze. Both vehicles were driven to Long–Wiggins' antique store. The safe was left with Long–Wiggins in a storage area behind her store. The guns were left with Long–Wiggins and Gonzalez. Gonzalez told Thornton and Florence to take the clothing worn during the crimes and burn all of it, which they did.

Law enforcement was called to the Billings' home by April Spencer, a registered nurse who lived in a trailer on the Billings' property and helped them with the children. Spencer had been alerted when Adrianna, one of the Billings' children, came to her trailer. Adrianna had been instructed to go to Spencer's trailer in a phone conversation she had with Ashley Markham, the Billings' adult daughter who did not live in the home. Markham had received a missed call from her mother's home phone number and returned the call. Jake, another of the Billings' children, answered the call and was screaming incoherently. Markham asked him to speak to their mom or dad, but instead, Adrianna got on the phone and alerted Markham about what was happening in the house. Markham told Adrianna to run to April Spencer's house and get her. When Spencer arrived, she saw blood in the hallway and found the Billings on the floor of the master bedroom. She called emergency services, and the Escambia County Sheriff's Office responded to the scene.

The Billings both died of multiple gunshot wounds. Mr. Billings was shot five times: in both legs, the left cheek (exiting at the right side of the neck), and twice in the back of the head. The two leg wounds would have been survivable; the cheek wound have been survivable for a few minutes until the victim drowned in his own blood; the two head wounds were inflicted close together, based on the similar angles and positions of the wounds, and were each fatal. Mrs. Billings was shot four times: once in the face, once in the head, and twice in the chest. All of her wounds were fatal; the first shot to her face would have rendered her unconscious; the other shots were inflicted as she lay on her back on the floor. Mr. Billings was located face down in the bedroom with a zip tie on his left wrist; Mrs. Billings was on her back in front of the closet. All of the bullets and shell casings recovered from the crime scene were nine millimeter. A firearms examiner was able to show that the two bullets recovered from Mrs. Billings' body were fired from a Springfield Armory nine-millimeter pistol that was found hidden in the springs under the cushion of the back seat of a vehicle owned by Long–Wiggins. Three other bullets and all ten bullet casings recovered at the residence were also fired from that nine-millimeter pistol.

The safe taken from the Billings' home was recovered unopened under a pile of bricks in the backyard of Long–Wiggins' residence. Long–Wiggins' fingerprints were found on a plastic bag covering the safe. Long–Wiggins and her husband, Hugh Wiggins, gave an AK–47 and two shotguns to Eddie Denson, a friend in Mississippi, who turned the weapons over to law enforcement. Denson also observed Hugh Wiggins toss a small handheld radio onto the side of the road, which was recovered by law enforcement the next day. Gonzalez's DNA was found on the AK–47. Gonzalez was also included as a possible contributor of the DNA found...

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