The man accused of killing of a Florida couple during a botched robbery shot the husband in each leg, demanding to know where the money was kept and then turned the gun on his wife when she said she couldn't remember the safe combination, according to co-defendant's testimony Tuesday.
Frederick Lee Thornton Jr., who has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for his role in the couple's deaths, said the ringleader of the operation was Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 36, a karate instructor accused of orchestrating the 2009 home-invasion of Byrd and Melanie Billings. The couple, known in the community for adopting nine children with special needs, was shot to death as some of their children looked on in horror.
Thornton Jr., 20, said the men burst into the Billings' living room and found the couple and one of their children. Gonzalez shot Mrs. Billings in the bedroom, Thornton said, when she said she could not remember the combination.
"Mr. Billings kept saying he didn't have any money," Thornton said.
Thornton said Gonzalez told the group the safe contained $13 million in cash.
"He said it was money from money laundering for the Mexican mafia from selling heroin. He talked about a vault in the bedroom," Thornton said.
Gonzalez, 36, supplied the group with ninja-like garb: black pants, shirts, boots, gloves, goggles and ski masks, Thornton said, and gave him a shotgun and his 16-year-old friend an AK 47.
Gonzalez could face the death penalty if convicted. Thornton faces up to life in prison. He hopes to have his sentence reduced in exchange for cooperating with prosecutors.
In earlier testimony, the Billings' adult daughter talked about a frantic telephone call with a younger sibling who was unable to talk as their parents were being killed.
Ashley Markham said the young boy with an unspecified disability could only scream. She told him to hand the phone to a sibling, who ran to a nurse's home on the property.
"I had a missed call from my mom, I called back and Jake answered the phone. He wasn't saying anything, he was just screaming. I was asking if he could just let me talk to mom and dad," Markham said.
Nurse Ashley Spencer sobbed as she told jurors about how the young girl knocked on her door and begged her to come to the home.
Spencer entered through a side door and discovered a trail of blood and bullet holes that led to the couple's bedroom. There she found Byrd Billings face down. Melanie Billings was in a second pool of blood.
A sheriff's deputy who was among the first to arrive at the sprawling rural home said officers went through each room and found the children, bringing them to the foot of the main staircase as they worked to secure the crime scene.
Markham and her husband are now raising the children, who were between 4 and 11 when their parents were killed.
Gonzalez's defense attorney told jurors that he was the victim of investigators' rush to arrest someone.
"This is going to be called a rush to judgment and arrest but thankfully not rush to judgment and a guilty verdict, that is why we are having a trial," attorney John Jay Gontarek said.
A 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.