PENSACOLA, Fla. – The attorney for the family of a slain Florida couple said Wednesday they made a small donation to a martial arts program run by one of the men accused of killing them.
Byrd and Melanie Billings were shot to death earlier this month during a break-in at their home west of Pensacola. The couple was known for adopting 13 special needs children.
One of the suspects in the slaying, Leonard Gonzalez Jr., told investigators he had opened a martial-arts studio with financial help from the victims, according to court records released Monday.
But family attorney Crystal Spencer told reporters that the aid was just a small donation by Byrd, probably less than $1,000.
"He made a donation in a nominal amount. That would not have been out of his character," Spencer told a news conference.
The court records were the first indication that Byrd, 66, and Melanie Billings, 43, had financial ties with any of the suspects and the latest twist in the strange shooting deaths of the couple who were raising 17 children, many with severe disabilities. They were killed July 9 in their sprawling home by masked men — some dressed as ninjas.
Gonzalez and six other men are charged with murder in the killings. He has said in court that he is innocent, but other suspects have told investigators he planned the attack.
In an affidavit for a warrant to search the home of Gonzalez, investigators wrote that the suspect told them he knew the Billingses because he had received financial support from them to open the studio.
Spencer said there were no indications that Gonzalez had ever worked for the automobile businesses that the Billingses owned over the years.
Nine of the Billings children were home during the attack, and one of them went to a neighbor who called for help. None of the children was injured.
The house had an extensive surveillance system that authorities said captured the men entering, shooting the Billingses and leaving within four minutes.
A safe was taken from the home during the precisely executed break-in and authorities have said robbery may have been a motive.