Fla. Couple Murder Looks Like Contract Hit

Parents of 13 special needs kids 'hated' by businessman
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 21, 2009 3:36 PM CDT
Pallbearers at the Byrd and Melanie Billings funeral carry one of the two caskets to the grave site, Friday, July 17, 2009, in Pensacola Fla.   (AP Photo/Phil Coale)
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(Newser) – The murder of Bud Billings and his wife Melanie is looking more like a contract hit than an In Cold Blood-style robbery gone wrong, Tim Padgett writes in Time. The tale centers on a boastful ex-Karate instructor in Pensacola, Fla., Leonard Gonzalez, who tells police he turned down the murder-for-hire job offered an angry used-car salesman. But prosecutors say Gonzalez took the job and brought six others with him.

Gonzalez's co-defendants accuse him of pulling the trigger and say they now live in fear. As for used-car dealer Henry Tice, he swears he never hired Gonzalez to gun down the Billingses in front of their 13 adopted special-needs children, but admits he "hated" Billings for playing hardball over a business loan. Tice is yet to face charges. "We'd all prefer it if this were a group of losers visiting a random act of violence on this family," a sheriff says, "but with each passing day and each new witness, we're finding that's probably not the case."
(Read more Pensacola stories.)