Murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings

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Byrd and Melanie Billings
Died Pensacola, Florida
Cause of death Shooting
Body discovered At home
Home town Beulah, Florida

The murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings occurred on or about July 9, 2009, in Pensacola, Florida, United States. Byrd Billings, 66, and his wife, Melanie, 43, were found shot to death on July 9, 2009.[1] The suspects, dressed in "ninja garb",[2] stole a safe and other items during the break-in at the sprawling Billings home west of Pensacola. Nine of their children were home at the time, but were not hurt by the intruders.[1] The family's attorney said that the safe contained jewelry, family papers, and prescription medications.[3]

Victims[edit]

Byrd Starling Billings divorced his second wife Cynthia Reeve Billings in January 1993.[4] Four months later, he married his third wife Melanie Anne Billings (née Brock).[5][4] Melanie Billings had two biological children from previous relationships, Nicole "Nikki" (died in 2008)[6][7][8] and Ashley Markham.[8][9] Melanie was 17 years old when she gave birth to Ashley and 19 years old when she gave birth to Nikki.[9]

Byrd Billings reportedly had two biological children also (not with Melanie Billings).[10] Before the couple's murder, three of their adopted children had died.[10]

They had a total of 16 children, including each other's stepchildren and adoptive children.[11][12][nb 1] One source said 13 of the children were adopted.[15]

At the time of their death, Melanie Billings owned a used car lot and Byrd Billings had a company named Worldco Financial Services.[16][5] Byrd Billings was also a used car dealer and former strip club owner.[5][17]

Trials and sentencing[edit]

Seven men were charged with first-degree murder and home invasion robbery, and an eighth suspect was charged with being an accessory after the fact.[13] Prosecutors allege that Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr., recruited his father, Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Sr., and five others in the plot.[14] The Billings had given Gonzalez Jr. money for a martial arts studio and Gonzalez reportedly had a key for their residence.[1]

In October 2010, Gonzalez, Jr. was on trial for first-degree murder facing a possible death sentence in Escambia County Circuit Court in Pensacola.[18] The Billings had 16 cameras located around the residence to help them observe their children, and some of the video footage was shown in court.[18] Gonzalez Jr. was identified in one video by Frederick Thornton, one of his accomplices, as the person who shot Byrd Billings.[18]

On February 17, 2011, it was announced that Gonzalez, Jr. was to be sentenced to death for the first degree murders. On April 10, 2014, Gonzalez's conviction and sentence of death were affirmed on direct appeal by the Florida Supreme Court.[19]

Perpetrators[edit]

A total of eight people were convicted for planning and participating in the crimes. The five criminals who entered the Billings' home, the two criminals who drove the getaway vehicles, and the criminal who helped dispose of the stolen property, were all found/pled guilty and received the following sentences:[19][20]

  • Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. - jury conviction of two death penalties for two counts of first degree murder and a life sentence for one count of home invasion robbery with a firearm.
  • Donnie Stallworth - two consecutive life sentences for two counts first degree murder, lengthy prison sentence for one count of home invasion robbery with a firearm (effectively permanent life in prison).
  • Wayne Coldiron - two consecutive life sentences for two counts first degree murder, lengthy prison sentence for one count of home invasion robbery with a firearm (effectively permanent life in prison).
  • Frederick Thornton - plea agreement, and testified against co-defendants, resulting in two concurrent 40 year sentences for two counts second degree murder, concurrent 22-year sentence for one count of home invasion robbery with a firearm (totals 22 years in prison then 18 years probation).
  • Rakeem Florence - plea agreement, and testified against co-defendants, resulting in two concurrent 45 year sentences for two counts second degree murder, concurrent 24-year sentence for one count of home invasion robbery with a firearm (totals 24 years in prison then 21 years probation).
  • Gary Sumner - back of house getaway driver, plea agreement resulting in two concurrent 20 year sentences for two counts second degree murder, concurrent 20-year sentence for one count of home invasion robbery with a firearm.
  • Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Sr. - front of house getaway driver, plea agreement resulting in two concurrent 17.5 year sentences for two counts second degree murder, concurrent 17.5 year sentence for one count of home invasion robbery with a firearm.
  • Pamela Long-Wiggins - jury conviction resulting in concurrent 28-year sentence and 12 sentence for two counts of accessory after the fact to a felony.

Leonard Gonzalez, Sr., died on June 13, 2015 in prison.[21] Pamela Long-Wiggins died on July 24, 2015 in prison.[22]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Other sources report the Billings had 15 children (2 biological, 13 adopted)[13] or 17 children (4 biological, 13 adopted).[14]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Martinez, Edecio (July 22, 2009). "Wealthy Fla. Couple Not Killed by Contract Hit, Say Police". CBS News. Retrieved August 29, 2009. 
  2. ^ Kates, Brian; Schapiro, Rich (July 14, 2009). "More arrests in murder of Byrd and Melanie Billings; assailants in 'ninja garb' captured on video". New York Daily News. Retrieved January 28, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Florida slayings investigation is 'like master's-level chess' - CNN.com". CNN. July 18, 2009. Retrieved May 19, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b "Byrd Billings Adoption Fraud Case". NorthEscambia.com. Retrieved August 29, 2009. 
  5. ^ a b c "As slain couple is buried, fuller portrait emerges - USATODAY.com". Associated Press via usatoday.com. 2009. Retrieved 15 April 2016. 
  6. ^ "Billings' murders don't destroy family". Pensacola News Journal. 5 July 2014. Retrieved 15 April 2016. 
  7. ^ "Nicole Billings Obituary - Pensacola, FL - the Pensacola News Journal". the Pensacola News Journal. Retrieved 15 April 2016. 
  8. ^ a b "Killings of Florida couple seen as clash of good and evil". NOLA.com. Retrieved 15 April 2016. 
  9. ^ a b "No Safe Place". Dateline NBC, nbcnews.com. 10 August 2009. Retrieved 15 April 2016. 
  10. ^ a b "Documents: Florida slaying victims knew suspect". CNN. Retrieved 15 April 2016. 
  11. ^ "Police Probe Business Ties of Murdered Florida Couple With 16 Kids". Fox News. Retrieved 15 April 2016. 
  12. ^ "Arrests in Florida double murder". BBC News. July 14, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-14. 
  13. ^ a b "Surveillance video shows Florida couple, gunmen". CNN. August 29, 2009. Retrieved August 29, 2009. 
  14. ^ a b "Prosecutors: Mastermind Got Dad to Drive Getaway Car by Telling Him Billings' Kids Were Abused". CBS News. August 24, 2009. Retrieved August 29, 2009. 
  15. ^ "Blogger Stirs a City by Suggesting That a Florida Couple’s Murder Was a Contract Killing". The New York Times. 17 August 2009. Retrieved 15 April 2016. 
  16. ^ "Byrd Billings Adoption Fraud Case". northescambia.com. Retrieved 15 April 2016. 
  17. ^ "Billings Murders: Man with "Mexican Mafia" Ties Questioned". CBS News. August 10, 2009. Retrieved August 29, 2009. 
  18. ^ a b c "Video shows team of 'ninjas' breaking into house, shooting man". CNN. October 26, 2010. Retrieved October 26, 2010. 
  19. ^ a b "No. SC11-475" (PDF). Florida Supreme Court. 2014-04-10. Retrieved 2015-01-01. 
  20. ^ Carlin Miller (2011-03-04). "Billings Home Invasion Update: Hung jury in murder of wealthy Fla. couple". CBS News. Retrieved 2015-01-02. 
  21. ^ Dave Dunwoody. "Gonzalez Sr. Dies In Prison". WUWF. Retrieved 15 April 2016. 
  22. ^ "Second Billings accomplice dies in prison". Pensacola News Journal. 24 July 2015. Retrieved 15 April 2016.