Death Penalty Sought for Suspects of Florida Murders

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Pensacola, Fla. – Prosecutors announced on Monday their intent to pursue the death penalty for four of the seven suspects facing murder charges for the July slayings of Byrd and Melanie Billings.

The four suspects facing the death penalty, Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr.; Wayne Thomas Coldiron; Donnie Ray Stallworth Jr.; and Frederick Lee Thornton Jr., have all plead not guilty to two counts of first degree murder each, and one count of home invasion robbery.

The remaining three suspects, Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Sr.; Gary Lamont Sumner; and Rakeem Chavez Florence, have also plead not guilty to the same charges. Florence is only 16, but is being tried as an adult.

Police has suspected that Gonzalez was the mastermind behind the crimes, and according to court documents, two of the other suspects have come forward, telling investigators that Gonzalez was also the lone gunman.

The Florida couple was well-known and liked throughout their community for adopting special-needs children. In addition to raising two biological children, the Billingses adopted 13 special-needs children with disabilities such as autism and Down Syndrome. The couple was killed during a home invasion, but authorities suspect their may have been a motive behind the murders, and are looking into the possibility of a contracted hit. The state attorney’s office has said they are focusing on robbery as a primary motive, but was willing to consider others.

An eighth suspect, Pamela Wiggins, is being charged as an accessory to murder, after a safe belonging to the Billingses was found in her backyard, following the murders. The safe contained financial documents, prescription medications and jewelry. A second safe, containing a large amount of money as well as legal documents, was not taken from the home.

At the time of the invasion and murders, nine of the 13 children were home, including one child who was in the couple’s room at the time they were killed. The child, who suffers from autism, told investigators that two men with black masks entered the room, woke the parents and told them they were going to die.

Investigators are also looking for another unnamed suspect who they believe assisted in the invasion by disabling the home’s sophisticated alarm system. The Billings resided in a $700,000 home with sprawling property, considered as “opulent” by Pensacola standards. Although Byrd Billings has somewhat of a criminal history, the Pensacola community remains baffled by any motive someone would have against the family.

 

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