Police: All Florida murder suspects in custody
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) -- A group of men charged in the slaying of a wealthy Florida couple known for adopting special needs children trained for at least a month to rob the couple's home, authorities said Wednesday.
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — A group of men charged in the slaying of a wealthy Florida couple known for adopting special needs children trained for at least a month to rob the couple’s home, authorities said Wednesday.
Byrd and Melanie Billings were shot to death in their home near Pensacola last week by several intruders caught on surveillance cameras as they entered from the front and rear and left within 10 minutes. Seven men, including day laborers and an Air Force staff sergeant, are jailed in the case on charges including murder.
Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan told the CBS “Early Show” on Wednesday that the men prepared for at least 30 days for the robbery.
Morgan said investigators had “verified yesterday that this team, this group of people, had been in training at least 30 days, a month, prior to the execution of it at the Billings’ compound.”
Morgan also said investigators believe they know who shot the couple.
“We have identified, in fact, who participated or I should say was the active shooter in this case. We’ve been asked not to release that at this time,” he told CBS.
Morgan has previously called the crime “a very well-planned and well-executed operation.”
The suspects arrested since the weekend range in age from 16 to 56. Several were day laborers who knew each other through a pressure washing business and an auto detailer they worked for. 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.
Stallworth had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan five times since 2002, an Air Force spokesman said.
Authorities have said the suspects, some dressed as ninjas, stole a safe and other items during the break-in Thursday. Nine of the couple’s 13 adopted children were home at the time. Three saw the intruders but were not hurt. Authorities would not say what was in the safe or what else was taken.
Some of the masked men entered through the front door, while others slipped in through an unlocked utility door in the back. They were in and out in under 10 minutes. The crime was captured by an extensive video surveillance system the Billings used to keep tabs on their many children.
Morgan has called 35-year-old suspect Leonard Gonzalez Jr. a “pivotal person” in organizing the crime, but stopped short of identifying him as the mastermind. He is 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, is 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, 19-year-old Frederick Lee Thornton, and a 16-year-old whom officials are not naming because he is a minor.
State Attorney Bill Eddins said he would seek first-degree murder indictments from a grand jury against all the suspects, including Gonzalez Sr. He would not say whether he will seek the death penalty.
Escambia County Judge Tom Johnson refused to set bail for the younger Gonzalez and Coldiron at the request of State Attorney Bill Eddins. Johnson set their arraignments for Aug. 6. Bond for the elder Gonzalez had already been set at $500,000. The other suspects were due in court this week except for Stallworth, who must be extradited from Alabama, where he was arrested.
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