- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 16, 2009

PENSACOLA, Florida — The accomplice assigned to turn off surveillance cameras before an elaborate, deadly break-in at a sprawling Florida Panhandle home never did, but the seven people accused in the crime apparently did not know that, authorities said Wednesday.

Melanie and Byrd Billings, known for adopting children with special needs, were shot to death a week ago. An extensive surveillance system captured footage of masked men — some dressed as ninjas — slipping into front and back doors at the home.

The video led investigators to a red van used as a used as a getaway car and eventually to the suspects, a loosely connected group of mostly day laborers who knew each other through a power-washing business and an auto detailing operation.

They were in the nine-bedroom house for just four minutes and on the property for 10 minutes, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said.

But investigators have been pondering what he called a “huge gap” in what was otherwise a precisely executed break-in for which the suspects had spent 30 days training.

“The execution was basically flawless,” Morgan said. “The one gaping hole that would not have made this a perfect operation, if you will, was the fact that the surveillance system was not disabled. I guess the question was why was it not?”

Morgan said the suspects took a safe from the house, though he would not say what was in it or what else was taken. Authorities have said the main motive was robbery, though there may have been others.

Wednesday evening, authorities arrested and charged a woman they had earlier sought help finding.

Pamela Long Wiggins — who was initially identified by authorities as Pamela Long — was charged with accessory after the fact to felony murder, Sheriff Morgan said. She was arrested after coming in voluntarily and being questioned with her lawyer for several hours, Morgan said. He declined to identify the lawyer.

Morgan declined to give details on why Wiggins was charged, saying only that State Attorney Bill Eddins would join him at a news conference Thursday to discuss details of her involvement.

Police in Orange Beach, Alabama, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from Pensacola, found the 47-year-old woman aboard a boat at a marina Wednesday afternoon.

Morgan said earlier that Wiggins is friends with and rents a home in suburban Gulf Breeze to 35-year-old Leonard Gonzalez Jr., whom Morgan described as a “pivotal person” in organizing the break-in at the Billings home.

Morgan also said authorities are looking for another person who may have been assigned to turn off the surveillance system, possibly remotely, though he did not identify that person.

He said it also could have been someone already in custody. Later, he said there’s a “distinct possibility” other people of “interest” will be sought.

Nine of the couple’s 13 adopted children were home during the break-in. Three saw the intruders but were not hurt. The couple also had four children from previous marriages.

The suspects range in age from 16 to 56. One, Donnie Ray Stallworth, was with the Air Force Special Operations Command with an aircraft maintenance squadron at Hurlburt Field near Fort Walton Beach. It wasn’t clear how he knew the others. Stallworth had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan five times since 2002, an Air Force spokesman said.

State Attorney Eddins has said he will ask a grand jury to indict all of those arrested on first-degree murder charges.

Eddins said it may take several weeks to get Stallworth back from Alabama because he has refused extradition.

Gonzalez was charged with murder and read a statement in court Tuesday proclaiming his innocence.

His father, Leonard Gonzalez Sr., 56, was charged with evidence tampering after authorities said he tried to cover up some damage on a red van seen on surveillance video pulling away from the house. Officials said the damage was unrelated to the crime.

The elder Gonzalez was back in court Wednesday via video on additional charges including two counts of murder.

Escambia County Judge Thomas Johnson revoked the $500,000 bail he had previously set and ordered Gonzalez held without bond until the case goes before the grand jury.

Johnson also denied bail Wednesday for Gary Lamont Sumner, 31, a paint and body shop worker, and Frederick Lee Thorton Jr., 19, who is unemployed. Both are from nearby Okaloosa County.

A 16-year-old from Okaloosa, whom officials are not naming because he is a minor, has been charged in juvenile court and is being held in detention.

Pensacola day laborer Wayne Coldiron, 41, was also charged with murder. He sometimes worked for a pressure washing business owned by the elder Gonzalez.

• Associated Press writers Melissa Nelson in Pensacola and Tamara Lush in Miami and the AP News Research Center in New York contributed to this report.

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