Murder of Florida Couple Could've Been a Contract Hit

One of the eight suspects charged in the robbery and murder of a Florida couple told authorities he was paid between $20,000 and $50,000 to kill them, The Daily Beast reported.

Two sources with direct knowledge of the situation, and who requested anonymity fearing possible reprisals, told the Web site that Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr. informed authorities he was paid to take out a hit on Byrd and Melanie Billings.

The news comes as another suspect told authorities that Gonzalez alone planned the home invasion and fatally shot the couple.

Court documents released Tuesday say 19-year-old Fredrick Thornton told investigators that Gonzalez Jr., a martial arts instructor, organized the attack and shot and killed the Billings.

Thornton, who is charged with murder, made the comments during a recorded interrogation after he was read his Miranda rights.

Gonzalez proclaimed his innocence in a statement he read at a court hearing last week.

The couple were found shot to death in their bedroom on July 9. They were parents of 17 children, 13 of them adopted, and owned several local businesses — including a finance company and a used-car dealership.

They lived in Beulah, a rural area west of Pensacola near the Alabama state line, in a house set deep in the woods.

The Escambia County Sheriff's Office wouldn't confirm or deny to The Daily Beast that the murder was a contract killing.

Gonzalez told authorities his team was planning the hit for several months, according to the Web site. He allegedly told investigators that a lot of the planning tool place at Pamela Wiggins' home.

Wiggins is a Florida real estate investor and family friend of Gonzalez.

Documents obtained Monday by the Pensacola News Journal revealed that Gonzalez told authorities he knew Byrd Billings because he gave him money to help open a martial arts studio.

It wasn't immediately clear who may have paid for the alleged hit.

During a previous attempt to enter the home, Gonzalez and his accused cohorts were frightened away by the Billings' outdoor lighting, which was attached to motion sensors, The Daily Beast reported.

Authorities said they were planning to interview three "persons of interest" to figure out if one of them — or someone else — was supposed to disable a surveillance system at the Billings home on the night of the robbery and murders.

Footage from the security camera helped lead to the arrest of eight people in the case.

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said Sunday that officials are looking for a ninth suspect who they believe had been in charge of disengaging the surveillance system but failed to show up or complete the task remotely the night the crimes were committed.

Click here to read more on this story from The Daily Beast.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.