Motives of two held in connection with killing of wealthy couple still unclear

By Calvin Palmer

Investigators are still trying to find a motive for the killing of a wealthy Florida couple after three men were held yesterday, two of them on murder charges.

There may be multiple motives as to why Byrd and Melanie Billings were shot dead at their sprawling home near Pensacola, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said.

“It began as what we thought was a home invasion,” said Morgan. “At this point because of the complexity and the ties this family had through the business community, we’re moving many other directions. Could be money, could be a whole host of things.”

Byrd Billings, 68, and Melanie, 43, owned several local businesses, including a finance company and a used car dealership.

Day laborer Wayne Coldiron, 41, turned himself in to Escambia County authorities and Leonard P. Gonzalez Jr, 35, was arrested in neighboring Santa Rosa County. Both were charged with murder and home invasion, according to their arrest warrants. The two were set to have a first court appearance tomorrow.

Gonzalez’s father, Leonard P. Gonzalez Sr, 56, was also held on a charge of evidence tampering. Police say he tried to paint over and hide damage on a red van that was spotted on surveillance video leaving the Billings’ home after the shootings Thursday. He is due to appear in court today.

The elder Gonzalez told investigators that he was the getaway driver and waited in the van while the others broke into the Billings’ house and burglarized it. He also told police several other men were involved.

The Billings’ nine-bedroom home in a rural area west of Pensacola near the Alabama state line had an extensive surveillance system that authorities said captured the break-in.

The surveillance video shows three armed, masked suspects arrive in the van; enter the house and then return to the vehicle.

Morgan said the investigation involves a complex web of relationships between suspects, though he declined to elaborate on them. He said it did not appear that the suspects knew the victims.

[Based on a report by the Associated Press.]

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