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Slain Fla. Couple Donated to Suspect

A slain Florida couple made a small donation to a martial arts program run by one of the men accused of killing them, a family attorney said Wednesday.

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 children with special needs.

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 this week.

But family attorney Crystal Spencer told reporters Wednesday that the aid was just a small donation by Byrd, probably less than $1,000, to a self-defense program Gonzalez ran.

"He made a donation in a nominal amount," Spencer said a news conference. "That would not have been out of his character."

The court records were the first indication that Byrd, 66, and Melanie, 43, had financial ties with any of the suspects. The Billingses, who also had four children from previous marriages, were killed July 9 in their sprawling home by masked men — some dressed as ninjas.

The men entered the home, took a safe and killed the couple in less than four minutes, according to investigators who reviewed surveillance video.

Gonzalez and six other men are charged with murder. He proclaimed his innocence in court, but other suspects have told investigators he planned the attack.

Spencer said she held a news conference Wednesday because she had been deluged with calls from national media.

"I wish you all would go back home to New York, Atlanta and Miami, but I have a job to do and you have a job to do," she said. "My most important concern is the safety and comfort of this family and my second concern is the prosecution of these suspects."

The couple had four children from previous marriages. Adult daughter Ashley Markham is caring for the nine youngest children in the home where the Billingses were slain, Spencer said. Family friends helped to clean it, replacing carpet, changing locks on the doors and doing other things to make it easier for the children to return. They are attending counseling through their church and school.

"They are doing well given what they've gone through," she said.

Nine of the Billings children were home during the attack, and one went to a neighbor who called for help. The children were not hurt.

Authorities have said robbery may have been a motive, but the safe that was taken contained only the children's prescription medications, family documents and jewelry with sentimental value.

Spencer declined to answer questions Wednesday about whether there was a second safe or a large amount of cash left behind.

"All of that is speculation that is harmful to the investigation," she said.