One man planned a Florida home invasion and fatally shot a couple who had several adopted special-needs children, one of eight suspects in the case told investigators.
According to court documents released Tuesday, Fredrick Thornton, 19, said martial arts instructor Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 35, organized the July 9 attack and killed Byrd Billings, 66, and Melanie Billings, 43. Gonzalez proclaimed his innocence in a statement he read at a court hearing after his arrest.
Thornton, who is one of seven people charged with murder, made the comments during a recorded interrogation in jail. The statement was included in an affidavit supporting a warrant to search a minivan belonging to one of the eight people arrested in the complex case. Authorities say the home was invaded by masked men dressed as ninjas. Their images were captured on a home security system.
The couple was killed in the bedroom of their sprawling home, while nine of their children were in other parts of the home. Another child went to a neighbor's home for help and the neighbor called authorities. All the children have various special needs and need nursing and other care. The Billings had 17 children total, 13 adopted, many with special needs.
Thornton also said that after the home break-in, the seven men gathered at an antique mall in Gulf Breeze, Fla., and met a woman in a maroon minivan where they had placed a safe from the Billings home. Antique mall owner Pamela Long Wiggins, 47, has been charged with being an accessory after the fact and investigators dug up the safe from the backyard of her home in suburban Gulf Breeze.
Wiggins was released on $10,000 bond.
Suspect weapon found?
Another suspect, Wayne Coldiron, 41, told investigators he met a woman named Pam who drove a maroon minivan at a home in Gulf Breeze before the home invasion.
The affidavit said the home was owned by Wiggins and "a subsequent search warrant of this residence revealed a number of firearms as well as ammunition as well as a 9 mm handgun which is the same caliber of weapon used the homicide."
Wiggins told investigators she was not involved in the home invasion but that Gonzalez was a friend and "had a key to the residence and permission to come and go as he pleased," the affidavit stated.
Attorneys for Thornton, Gonzalez and Coldiron did not immediately return phone messages Tuesday from The Associated Press. Wiggins has not returned messages seeking comment.
Also Tuesday, investigators said they did not anticipate more arrests in the case and that they were not investigating the Billings' deaths as a contract hit.
Monday night, Sheriff David Morgan told CNN that investigators wanted to talk to up to nine more people and planned to make at least one more arrest. Morgan also said his department was looking at a hit as a motive.
But sheriff's spokesman Ted Roy said Tuesday that investigators only considered a contract hit as a possibility for "a fleeting second during the initial phase of the investigation."
"Could it still be a motive? I guess it could, but someone else other than the investigators assigned to the Billings case will have to investigate it because investigators working the Billings case sure don't believe so," he said.