Billings case: Sunday, July 12

Sunday, July 12

At noon, Sgt. Hoard interviews Leonard Gonzalez again. The evidence was stacking up against him. The Investigators knew that he had bought two cans of red spray paint the day after the homicides. They found paint chips on the ground where the van’s appearance had been altered. Witnesses told them that the van did run and was seen in the front yard of the Palm Court residence in the days before the homicides.

When confronted with the facts, Leonard tries to minimize his involvement, but later confesses when interviewed by State Attorney Bill Eddins. Hoard watches these interviews from the adjacent monitoring room.

At 2 p.m. Barber returns to the Big Country’s Food Store in Elberta to obtain a recorded sworn statement from Brad Thornton. The owner remembers more about Leonard’s visit on Sunday, July 5. The man said that he would come back Monday or Tuesday for the van. Then he came back inside saying he forgot to get something for either his wife or girlfriend. He bought something and made a comment about taking the tag off so that no one could steal the tag.

On Monday or Tuesday, Leonard returns for the van and buys a beer. Later a younger, stocky man comes in and offers to pay Thornton for letting them keep the van there. Thornton refuses and they drive off in the van. Thornton could identify Leonard from a photo line-up, but not Patrick.

When Carol Brant comes around 2:30 p.m. to the ECSO to check on Leonard, Sgt. Nesmith gets her to confirm that she had given him permission to search the trailer, shed and the property.

Brant says said that Patrick had brought the red van over about a month ago for Leonard to work on it. She also referred to him as “Junior.” Leonard had been working on it “a little here, a little there.” She says that her boyfriend couldn’t work on one thing long enough “cause of his short-term memory loss.”

According to Brant, the van had been in the backyard, but had moved to front either on Tuesday or Wednesday. On Friday, July 9, it was behind the building.

Brant insisted that her boyfriend couldn’t drive the van all and didn’t park it behind the shed. She thought either Patrick or a friend of his, Wayne Coldiron, did it. The last time that she had seen Coldiron was Tuesday or Wednesday. He was over helping Leonard on the van. She didn’t remember anyone else coming on the property.

Brant says shed ridden in the van once to the Circle K at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and W Street, where they put air in the tires. That was on Monday or Tuesday. She drove the van with Leonard. “And it was a bitch.”

She says that Leonard can’t drive at all.

Nesmith brought up the blue boot box.

“Pat brought it over and said that Tabitha had bought him new boots, but I never saw the boots.”

She couldn’t remember when Pat brought the box into the trailer, either Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. It was in the Ford Expedition, which she thought Patrick owned, and he wanted her to throw it away.

She thought the red Dodge van was to help Leonard with his pressure washing business.
“Pat would help him find some jobs over where he lives so that they could, so that he could make a little side money.”

She doesn’t know how Leonard got the paint from the Dollar Store since she didn’t drive him and wouldn’t give him her car keys. She says that she spent Saturday night at the Howard Johnson’s on Hwy 29.

Investigators Terry Hardy and Chris Baggett try to locate where Patrick Gonzalez had bought the boots. The box indicated that they were Markham-brand boots.

They go to the WalMart in Gulf Breeze, which is near Patrick’s residence, and discover such boots had been sold on Thursday, July 9. They collect store surveillance video that shows Patrick Gonzalez and four black men at the store. The parking lot video shows him driving up in a red mini-van, park and get out with a small van. Also a red Ford Expedition parks and a white female, believed to be his wife Tabitha, gets out and walks into the store

As the Expedition parks, a light-colored or tan Ford Explorer pulls in the parking lot and parks further down the row from the Expedition. Four black males get out and walk toward the store entrance. Two get back into the front seats of the SUV.

Patrick and the two black males go into the WalMart. Later there is an exchange between the three at one of the registers. Approximately 45 seconds later, Tabitha comes up with a shopping cart and the Markham-brand boots are purchased.

Patrick, Tabitha and the two black males get in the mini-van and drove off, followed by the tan Ford Explorer.

Hardy and Baggett go to Patrick’s residence after viewing the video to interview Tabitha. Patrick isn’t there. Tabitha drives up in the red mini-van , which they later learn is owned by Pamela Long Wiggins.

Tabitha is unaware of the murder investigation and has no knowledge of a red Dodge van owned by Patrick Gonzalez. She said she had gone to WalMart to buy boots for her 16-year-old son and that she had met her husband there between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 9.

After they met at the store, she followed him as he returned the mini-van, which he had been driving all day, to a friend’s home. They returned home between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m. Patrick left their home before or just after 7 p.m. and returned about 9 p.m.


Meanwhile, Sgt Nesmith helped Investigator Watts in arresting Leonard Gonzalez for one count of tampering with evidence.

Upon giving him his Miranda warning, Leonard asks to speak with State Attorney Bill Eddins.

Nesmith writes in his report, “I was not aware that Leonard Gonzalez Sr. had already spoken to Mr. Eddins. However, we brought Mr. Eddins to the interview room and began a recorded statement. That statement was turned over to Mr. Eddins and he and Mr. Gonzalez, Sr. talked.”


At 5 p.m. Sheriff David Morgan holds a press conference. The room is packed. Dateline NBC has a produced there as well as crews from other national news networks.

“I am very pleased to announce that we have made our first arrest,” says Morgan to the media and live television audience. “Hopefully many more will follow.”

He tells the public that Leonard Gonzalez has been taken into custody is being charged with tampering with evidence. The tampering charge is a third degree felony and he is being held on $250,000 bond.

State Attorney Bill Eddins also addresses the audience, “As the sheriff has indicated, progress is being made. We, too, are pleased this arrest has been made and anticipate additional arrests will be made. We are satisfied with the progress of the investigation. It is a very tedious and intensive investigation, but we are satisfied with the progress.”

Sheriff David Morgan says the elder Gonzalez changed the appearance of the van believed to be used in the murders and is one of the two men brought in for questioning Saturday. Eddins leaves room for Leonard Gonzalez to be charged with other charges in the future as more evidence is uncovered.

He doesn’t release any information involving the motives for the murders, but says the investigation is getting more complex and, in his words, “reads like a movie script.”

Morgan said that they are looking at multiple persons of interest–more than the original three persons mentioned at earlier press conferences–and more arrests are expected, but he doesn’t provide additional details.

“I will tell you this, we are very anxious to share this story with the citizens of Escambia County and with the nation, if you will. It’s going to be a humdinger, I’ll tell you that.”

Because of the nature of the case, Morgan says, Escambia residents are not in any additional danger from the shooters. Both Morgan and Eddins say the public will be surprised by the details of the investigation when they are ready to release them.

The reporters do get testy with Sheriff Morgan after he refuses to answer their specific questions. His standard reply is “We are not prepared to release that information at this time.”

Eddins steps in to defend the sheriff. “Let add that the sheriff has given the same answer several times. He and I have discussed this matter and I support his position. We understand your frustration. However, you understand that if we are not extremely careful we could effect the investigation. And because of that, we have to take one step at a time.”

Sheriff Morgan closes the press conference with “This investigation will expand much larger than any of us may have anticipated.”


The word “humdinger” sticks. When CNN reporter David Mattingly interviews the sheriff live for CNN Newsroom, he can’t let it drop.

Mattingly: “Sheriff, what can you tell me when you call this a humdinger? Was this murder and this break-in … part of something bigger going on that you hadn’t anticipated?

Morgan: “Well, again, we can’t release specifics, but the answer to that question is yes. We have discovered is this case is multifaceted. Meaning, again, as I explained a home invasion early on in this case, a home invasion can be a simple burglary, it can be a burglary for drugs, it can be an armed robbery.

But it’s a home invasion….and we’re finding in this investigation that its complexity and the avenues that you’re going to. Like you’re trying to establish a motive, we have multiple motives at this point. And so we cannot come up with one motive for this or two motives for this. And when we run that one motive, we find that it branches off to several others and so the complexity of this is growing exponentially.”

Mattingly: “You started off with three persons of interest that you were looking for. Can you tell us how many people you might be looking for now.”

Morgan: “Upon consultation advice to the state attorney, we’re just prepared to say that there are multiple involved.”

Mattingly: “Is there any indication that this was part of an ongoing operation where other residents may have been affected as well?”

Morgan: “No, sir. This case started as a result sadly of this double murder and so the other areas that are being brought into this were not ongoing crimes, if you will, that we were aware of.”

Mattingly: And we need to make very clear that Mr. Gonzalez is a resident of this area, and he is not charged in the home invasion or in the murders.

Morgan: Exactly.

Mattingly: Since we have the camera on you and have you on the hot seat right now, can you tell us when we can expect more arrests in this case? I know, all day yesterday and today you were saying we’re probably going to have something for you soon? Something for you soon.

Morgan: “Yes.”

Mattingly: “Has that changed? Have you got anything more specific for us?

Morgan: “As Mr. Eddins said, we are now picking up speed in this investigation and I would say in the ensuing days. I can’t promise you an arrest every day, but I will tell you that in the ensuing days we will have many more arrests that will be forthcoming.”


Sgt. Nesmith interviews Carol Brant again when she comes to ECSO to pick up Leonard’s wallet after his arrest. It’s about 6:30 p.m. Brant has seen the newscast. She knows that she will have to answer more questions.

This time Nesmith is firmer with Brant. She admits that she knew Leonard had driven the van to the Billings residence, but he hadn’t told her what happened.

Nesmith: “How do you know he was involved?”

Brant: “I just knew.”

Nesmith: “How do you know?”

Brant: “He…I can’t tell or I’ll die.”

She says that Patrick had told her that they were going to the Billings residence because that man was molesting little children that he had in his care. And when they walked in, there was little six-year-old Chinese girl with a negligee on and him in the bedroom with her. A few days earlier Leonard had told her that they were gonna do a job on a pervert. Off of Mobile Highway somewhere.

She was also told Billings was laundering money for the mob. And they went over there with the intent of robbing him. She admits that she knew that they were going there.

“And he supposedly had a bunch of drugs in the house, too,” Brant tells Nesmith.

She insists she didn’t know how Leonard and Pat were going to do this, because “I was excused from the room every time they talked about it. I stayed out of it.”

She says the conversations had been going on for a couple months.

Nesmith asks why was Billings the robbery target. “He didn’t pick him. He was asked to do it.” She doesn’t know who asked him to do it.

Patrick’s payment was the cash in the house. The money was in a “big safe.” According to Brant, he said, “I’ve got a job. I’ve got to do, he’s molesting these children and he’s supposed to have been laundering money.”

On Thursday, July 9, she left the trailer that evening about 6:00 or 6:30. Only Leonard and Pat were there. When she got back, Brant knew other people had been there because of the mess left, “drinks, candy wrappers and stuff.” Patrick was wearing jeans when she left the trailer. He had on shorts when he returned later around 9 p.m. She said that Patrick didn’t come in. She saw a silver SUV outside.

Brant is clearly frightened. Both Leonard and Pat have told her over the phone not to talk to the investigators. “Because if I did, I would be killed and so would my family.” Brant is crying.

She knew that Leonard was involved by how he acted Friday morning. She was looking at the news. Leonard said, “I think they got shot.” She didn’t pursue it.

“I didn’t want to know.”

Nesmith chastises her about not being more forthcoming that morning. She cries more.

“I’m afraid I’m gonna die and I don’t want to die…I didn’t do anything.”

Leonard had told her that they were steal the Mexican Mafia money and it was easy pickings.

“He figured if they were stupid enough to get money that way, he might as well get some of it, too.”

According to her, “He said that they were gonna rob that man because he was a pervert and he was supposedly cleaning money for the Mexican Mafia and there was a bunch of drug in there cause he hadn’t cleaned any money in a while.”

As Nesmith ends the interview, Brant asks, “Do I go to jail now, too?”

Copyright © 2009 Rick Outzen