- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 16, 2009

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

Melanie and Byrd Billings, known for adopting a large brood of children with special needs, were fatally shot about 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 and stealing a safe, among other items.

The men were in the nine-bedroom house for just four minutes and on the property for 10, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said. Video recorded during that time led investigators to a red van used as a getaway car and eventually to the suspects.

Sheriff Morgan said investigators have been pondering “the huge gap” in what was otherwise a precise, methodical crime for which the suspects had trained for 30 days. They were a loosely connected group of mostly day laborers who knew each other through a power-washing business and an auto-detailing operation.

“The execution was basically flawless,” Sheriff Morgan said at a press conference. “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?”

Investigators have not said what was in the safe or what else was taken from the house. The sheriff also said they don’t know the identity of the mysterious person assigned to turn off the camera system or why that person didn’t show up. He speculated that maybe it was an attack of conscience.

Also Wednesday, authorities said they located a real estate agent named Pamela Laverne Long who was wanted for questioning in the couple’s slaying. Sheriff Morgan said police in Orange Beach, Ala., found her in or near a marina about 30 miles from Pensacola Wednesday afternoon.

Sheriff Morgan sad Miss Long was coming back to Florida voluntarily and was not in custody. He said she is friends with and rented property to Leonard Gonzalez Jr., 35, one of the suspects charged with murder in the case. Police do not think she was at the house the night the Billingses were killed but they do think she rented property to Mr. Gonzalez, whom Sheriff Morgan described as a “pivotal person” in the operation.

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.

State Attorney Bill Eddins has said he will ask a grand jury to indict all those arrested on first-degree murder charges in the Billings’ shooting deaths.

He said robbery was the main motive.

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

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