Video: What’s next for kids?

updated 8/13/2009 5:06:28 PM ET 2009-08-13T21:06:28

Six men and a 16-year-old boy charged as an adult pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges on Thursday in the slaying of a Panhandle couple who adopted 13 children, many with special needs.

The six adults could face the death penalty if convicted in the July 9 robbery and shooting deaths of Byrd and Melanie Billings at the couple’s sprawling home west of Pensacola. The teenager could face life in prison.

Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Williams set a Nov. 9 trial for the men and an Oct. 21 trial for the teenager, but State Attorney Bill Eddins said the trials likely won’t start for as long as a year.

Eddins said the investigation into the complicated case is ongoing. He has not announced whether he will seek the death penalty against any of the suspects, but the charges returned by a grand jury this week allow for that possibility.

Arraigned on two counts of first-degree murder and a single count of home invasion are: Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 35; Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Sr., 56; Wayne Coldiron, 41; Donnie Ray Stallworth, 28; Gary Lamont Sumner Jr., 30; Frederick Lee Thornton Jr., 19; and Rakeem Florence, 16.

Taken from the Billing’s home was a safe that investigators have said contained the children’s medications, family documents and jewelry of sentimental value to the family. Family attorney Robert Beasley this week said a second safe left at the home contained $164,000 in cash and may have been the intended target.

Surveillance cameras captured men dressed as ninjas and wearing black masks entering the couple’s sprawling house and leaving in less than four minutes.

Beasley has said money in the second safe was a cash reserve for the family’s used car financing business. The family ran Worldco Financial Services next to a used car lot they operated. Authorities have removed the cash as possible evidence.

On Thursday, Beasley filed a motion to suppress the release of pictures and surveillance video from the family’s home to the media as part of the court records. The materials include images of some of the nine children who were home when the couple were killed, according to the court filing.

“The images are extraordinarily graphic and include and include footage of the minor children as well as scene from the crime,” the motion stated.

Beasley told The Associated Press on Thursday that all of the nine children who where in the home had various special needs including Down syndrome, autism and fetal alcohol syndrome. Some of the children need machines to assist with their breathing.

“Some of the children witnessed this crime and they are all processing it differently. Because they are all disabled, they are processing it in their own ways. We have multiple, multiple, multiple concerns about their parents’ bodies being seen on national television,” he said.

And he said some of the children are also seen on images from extensive surveillance system.

Eddins, the state attorney, said prosecutors respected the family’s privacy concerns. Eddins said he did not anticipate releasing any of the information before Monday to give the court time to consider the motion.

“It’s not unusual to have motions like this in these types of cases. A judge has to evaluation the obligation to victims and the public’s right to know,” he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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