The Florida Supreme Court today unanimously turned down an appeal by a man convicted of killing an Escambia County couple during a 2009 home-invasion robbery that drew widespread attention.
Justices rejected arguments raised by Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., who was convicted of first-degree murder in the slayings of Byrd and Melanie Billings. Gonzalez and four other men were alleged to have entered the home to steal a safe that they thought contained $13 million, according to court records. Byrd and Melanie Billings died after each being shot multiple times.
In the appeal decided Thursday, Gonzalez raised arguments including that he had received “ineffective assistance” from his attorney before being convicted. In part, Gonzalez contended that his attorney didn’t adequately argue for a change of venue because of publicity surrounding the case. Also, Gonzalez contended that the attorney did not adequately determine during jury selection whether jurors could be impartial.
But the Supreme Court, in a nine-page opinion, upheld the convictions.
“The record before this (Supreme) Court demonstrates that trial counsel provided prospective jurors with a questionnaire inquiring, among other things, about their exposure to pretrial publicity,” the opinion said. “Members of the (potential jury) who responded that they were familiar with the publicity were asked if they could set it aside and consider only the evidence presented during the trial. Two prospective jurors who indicated they could not set aside what they had heard or read were excused for cause. Once the jury selections were completed, Gonzalez was asked personally if he was satisfied with the jury as selected and he replied affirmatively. Accordingly, the record reflects that Gonzalez was able to select a fair and impartial jury and the trial court would not likely have granted a renewed motion for change of venue at that time.”
Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga and Alan Lawson concurred in the opinion. Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice R. Fred Lewis agreed with the outcome but did not fully sign on to the opinion.
source: The News Service of Florida