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Documents reveal links between suspects in slaying of Panhandle couple

PENSACOLA —Seven suspects charged in the shooting deaths of a Florida Panhandle couple appear to be a hastily assembled group lured by the promise of money, according to documents released by prosecutors.

Six men and a 16-year-old charged as an adult have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in last month's slayings of Byrd and Melanie Billings, known for adopting several children with special needs.

In the weeks before the attack, Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 35, identified by authorities as the "mastermind," asked a few friends to drive a getaway car for a robbery, according to the documents. Gonzalez called one of the men 13 times on July 9, the day of the killings, pleading for his help.

Gonzalez's stepmother told investigators that he persuaded his 56-year-old father to drive the getaway car by telling him that the Billings children were being sexually abused.

The documents reveal other links among the suspects, though it remains unclear exactly how each was recruited.

Besides the Gonzalezes, also charged are Wayne Coldiron, 41; Donnie Ray Stallworth, 28; Gary Lamont Sumner Jr., 30; Frederick Lee Thornton Jr., 19; and Rakeem Florence, 16.

A surveillance video is set to be released Tuesday.

Documents say a 10-year-old adopted son with Down syndrome was sleeping with his parents when the gunmen burst in and shot the couple to death in their bedroom.

The boy was among nine children between the ages of 4 and 11 at the home during the slayings.

According to a sheriff's report, the child told investigators he heard a knock on the door and that "two bad men" said, "You're going to die, one, two, three" and then, "no way, no way."

According to autopsy reports, Melanie Billings, 43, was shot twice in her chest, and in the face and head. Byrd Billings, 66, was shot multiple times in the head and legs.

Documents reveal links between suspects in slaying of Panhandle couple 08/23/09 [Last modified: Sunday, August 23, 2009 9:43pm]
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