Suspect in Florida Killings Reveals Name of Planner
A suspected accomplice in the Florida killings of a couple known for adopting disabled children said that a martial arts instructor planned and carried out the murders, a court affidavit said Tuesday.
Frederick Thornton, 19, named Leonard Patrick "Pat" Gonzalez Jr., 35, as the planner of the July 9 robbery and the lone shooter of Byrd and Melanie Billings, according to the affidavit, filed in Escambia County Court. Police found the couple dead in the bedroom of their sprawling home near Pensacola. Nine of their adopted children were in the house at the time of the murders.
Police have charged Gonzalez, Gonzalez' father, Thornton and four other men with the murders. One woman is charged with aiding the group after the crime.
Video surveillance cameras in the Billings house captured five armed, masked men entering the house and leaving in a red van.
Gonzalez last week denied committing the murders. In a recorded interview detailed in an affidavit, Gonzalez admitted owning the red van seen on the video surveillance, but said the van is broken down. He told police the Billings family had given him money to open a martial arts studio.
The family has denied any business connections to Gonzalez.
Police included Thornton's statement with an application for a search warrant filed Monday in Escambia County Court.
Thornton told police that he and the other men met with Pamela Long Wiggins, 42, at the Gulf Breeze, Fla., antiques store she owns. The men had transferred items, including a safe, that were stolen from the Billingses' home to her minivan, before going to the store, the affidavit says. Police found the safe buried in Wiggins' backyard and several weapons in her home.
Wiggins, who is free on bail, did not return a phone message left at her home. She told police in an interview that she was not involved in the murders or home invasion robbery, but that Gonzalez had a key to her residence and was free to come and go as he pleased, an affidavit said.
Wayne Coldiron, 41, a day laborer also charged with the murders, told investigators he had met with Wiggins before going to the Billingses' home.
Police say the seven men arrested in the slayings are connected through day labor jobs at car detailing and pressure cleaning businesses in two northwest Florida counties. The men rehearsed and trained for the robbery for a month, Escambia County Sheriff Dave Morgan said.
Prosecutor Bill Eddins said the men intended to rob the home and escape with a safe. Police say the safe contained jewelry, medicine for the children and documents.
"The primary motive in this case was robbery, home invasion robbery," Eddins said.