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Sheriff: Accomplice in Pensacola slayings failed to turn off cameras

PENSACOLA — The accomplice assigned to turn off surveillance cameras before an elaborate, deadly break-in at a sprawling Florida Panhandle home never did, but the people accused in the crime apparently did not know that, authorities said Wednesday.

Melanie and Byrd Billings, known for adopting a large brood of children with special needs, were shot to death about a week ago. An extensive surveillance system captured masked men slipping into front and back doors at the home and stealing a safe, among other items.

The men were in the nine-bedroom house for just four minutes and on the property for 10, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said. Video captured during that time led investigators to a red van used as a getaway car and eventually to the suspects.

Morgan said investigators have been pondering "the huge gap" in what was otherwise a precise, methodical crime for which the suspects had trained for 30 days. They were a loosely connected group of mostly day laborers who knew one another through a power-washing business and an auto-detailing operation.

"The execution was basically flawless," Morgan said. "The one gaping hole that would not have made this a perfect operation, if you will, was the fact that the surveillance system was not disabled. I guess the question was why was it not?"

Investigators have not said what was in the safe or what else was taken from the house. Morgan said they also do not know why the camera system remained on. He speculated that maybe the person who was supposed to turn it off had an attack of conscience.

Also Wednesday, police in Orange Beach, Ala., about 30 miles from Pensacola, found a real estate agent named Pamela Wiggins, who was initially identified as Pamela Long. She was returned to Florida and charged with accessory after the fact to felony murder, but Morgan would not give any details on why she was charged.

Morgan said Wiggins is friends with and rents property to 35-year-old Leonard Gonzalez Jr., whom Morgan described as a "pivotal person" in organizing the crime.

Morgan also said authorities are looking for another person who may have been assigned to turn off the surveillance system, possibly remotely, though he did not identify that person.

Nine of the couple's 13 adopted children were home during the break-in. Three saw the intruders but were not hurt. The couple also had four children from previous marriages.

State Attorney Bill Eddins has said he will ask a grand jury to indict all those arrested on first-degree murder charges in the Billings shooting deaths. He said robbery was the main motive.

The suspects range in age from 16 to 56. One, Donnie Ray Stallworth, was with the Air Force Special Operations Command with an aircraft maintenance squadron at Hurlburt Field near Fort Walton Beach. It wasn't clear how he knew the others.

Gonzalez was charged with murder and read a statement in court Tuesday proclaiming his innocence.

His father, Leonard Gonzalez Sr., 56, was charged with evidence tampering after authorities said he tried to cover up some damage on a red van seen on surveillance video pulling away from the house. Officials said the damage was unrelated to the crime.

Day laborer Wayne Coldiron, 41, was also charged with murder. He sometimes worked for a pressure washing business owned by the elder Gonzalez.

The other suspects arrested were Gary Sumner, 31, a day laborer, Frederick Lee Thornton, 19, and a 16-year-old whom officials are not naming because he is a minor.

Family in bay area

There is a Tampa Bay connection to the murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings in Pensacola.

Michael Billings, the 44-year-old son of Byrd Billings from a previous marriage, lives in Indian Shores.

He said he went to Pensacola after the murders but returned to his home after just a few hours. He said he won't be going to the couple's funeral.

"I didn't feel safe there," he said.

Sheriff: Accomplice in Pensacola slayings failed to turn off cameras 07/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 16, 2009 7:29am]

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