updated 1/28/2010 2:54:33 PM ET 2010-01-28T19:54:33

A teenager has pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in the July home-invasion deaths of a Florida couple known for adopting children with special needs.

Thursday's plea by 19-year-old Frederick Thornton Jr. allows him to avoid the death penalty. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Thornton and six other men were charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Byrd and Melanie Billings. A woman has been charged as an accessory.

Robert Beasley, an attorney for the Billingses' daughter, told The Pensacola News Journal that the plea deal means Thornton could testify against the others.

The couple's nine young children — who have varying special needs including Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome and autism — were inside the home when their parents were killed.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments