Alleged ringleader in killings calm in interview

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PENSACOLA — The alleged ringleader of a group of men charged with killing a Panhandle couple as the family’s nine disabled children watched appeared confident in a videotaped interview with detectives recorded less than two days after the murders and made public on Tuesday.

Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 35, had not been arrested and was speaking without an attorney during the 70-minute July 11 interview. He was arrested less than 24-hours later.

He told detectives he learned about Byrd and Melanie Billings’ deaths from television news.

“I hope you all get this solved because the guy had like 15 kids,” he said.

The 70-minute interview was among 26 CDs and DVDs of suspect interviews, evidence lists, photographs and other information released by prosecutors as part of a public information request in the July 9 home-invasion. The Billingses were well known for adopting numerous children with autism, Down syndrome and other special needs.

The younger Gonzalez and three other men face the death penalty if convicted of two counts of first-degree murder. Gonzalez’s father, Leonard Gonzalez Sr., 56, another man and a 16-year-old boy have also been charged with two counts of first-degree murder, but prosecutors say they will not seek the death penalty against them. All have pleaded not guilty.

A woman has pleaded not guilty to accessory to first-degree murder.

Throughout much of his interview, the younger Gonzalez leans back in his chair while chatting and joking with the investigators.

“He (Byrd) was very security conscious. This guy was well prepared. I’m surprised this went down like that without a shootout or something,” he says.

Surveillance cameras captured men dressed as ninjas and wearing black masks entering the home house and leaving in less than four minutes.

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