PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG)– A Florida Circuit Court Judge has vacated the death sentence imposed on Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. for the 2009 robbery and murder of Byrd and Melanie Billings.
Escambia County Circuit Court Judge Nikolas Geeker ordered a new penalty phase on the two counts of murder. In 2010, a jury voted 10-2 for the death penalty and in early 2011 the court sentenced Gonzalez to death on the murder charges and life in prison for the home invasion robbery.
Judge Geeker cited the Florida Supreme Court decision in Hurst v. Florida as grounds to set aside the sentences imposed. No hearing date has been set yet.
Gonzalez and four other men – Frederick Thorton, Rakeem Florence, Donnie Stallworth and Wayne Coldiron – invaded the Billings home from three different entry points on the night of July 9, 2009. The men intended to steal a safe that they believed contained $13-Million.
The Billings home was equipped with an extensive surveillance system and the crime was captured on video, with the exception of the actual murders, which occurred in the master bedroom where there were no cameras.
WKRG is following this breaking news.