PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — A wealthy Florida couple was murdered in their home where nine of their 16 children were sleeping. Seven people would be charged with their murders. This is the story of Melanie and Byrd Billings.
WKRG News 5 is looking back at the crimes that shocked the Gulf Coast. Melanie and Byrd Billings’ story is the twenty-ninth in the series.
Melanie and Byrd Billings were known to be a wealthy couple that lived in the Florida panhandle. The couple owned several businesses in the area and were known to have big hearts – big enough to raise 16 children, 12 of which were adopted and many with special needs.
On July 9, 2009, a group of men arrived at the Billings home near the Alabama state line. The men, all dressed in what investigators described as “ninja garb,” entered the home through the front and back doors. Surveillance footage caught the break-in all on camera. Within four minutes of breaking into the home, the men had left.
Inside the home, Melanie and Byrd were asleep in their bed with one of their special needs sons. They were shot and killed. Also while inside, the men stole a safe. Nine of the couple’s children between the ages of 4 and 11 were inside the home when the murders occurred. None of them were harmed, however, three of them saw the intruders.
There were two safes inside the home. One of those safes contained around $160,000 in cash, some antique jewelry and legal documents. The other safe, which also happened to be the safe the killers stole, contained the children’s prescription medication, family documents and jewelry with sentimental value. That safe was later found in the backyard of Pamela Wiggins’ home.
Investigators said they believed the motive was a robbery. It was believed by the killers that the couple had as much as $12 million in the home on the night of the murders.
A Florida Grand Jury indicted seven men in the case. Each man was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of home-invasion robbery. The indictments gave the state attorney the option to seek the death penalty against the seven men.
Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr., 35, is the one investigators believed pulled the trigger. The other men that were accused of taking part in the invasion and murder include:
- Wayne Coldiron
- Rakeem Florence
- Frederick Thornton
- Donnie Stallworth
- Gary Sumner
- Patrick Gonzalez, Sr.
Wiggins was the eighth suspect arrested. She was charged with accessory after the fact to felony murder. Gonzalez Jr. was found guilty and sentenced to death. Some of the other men took plea deals to get lesser sentences.