UPDATED 10-13-09: FLORIDA COUPLE WITH 13 ADOPTED KIDS SLAIN IN HOME INVASION…
In a brief statement, State Attorney Bill Eddins said he had filed notices to seek death for the accused ring leader, 35-year-old Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr., as well as 28-year-old Donnie Ray Stallworth; 41-year-old Wayne Thomas Coldiron, and 19-year-old Frederick Lee Thornton, Jr. Three other guys face the same charges as those four. They are Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Sr.; Gary Lamont Sumner; and Rakeem Chavez Florence. Florence is 16, but was charged as an adult, authorities have said. All seven suspects pleaded not guilty.
Rakeem Florence is a teenager charged in the Billings’ murders on July 9th in Beulah, Florida.
Rakeem Chavez (Chaney) Florence of Ft. Walton Beach, FL, is 16-years-old. He is charged with an open count of murder in the deaths of Byrd and Melanie Billings, the parents of 17 children, 13 adopted and nine of whom were in the Billings home the night of the murders. Florence is said to be connected to the murders through three men also under arrest, each with connections to Fifth Dimension Auto Detailing: Frederick Lee Thornton, Jr 19 – lived across the street from the shop, Gary Lamont Sumner 30, the shop manager and Donnie Ray Stallworth 28, a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant. A business owner in the same complex, Barry Whitman, placed all three men at the auto detailing shop. Rakeem is said to be the father of a 10-month-old baby. The baby and the mother, Rakeem’s girlfriend, may have been living at the Fifth Dimension Auto Detailing on Duval Street in Ft. Walton Beach, FL. The 16-year-old father had reportedly worked at the shop for less than two weeks when the Billings were murdered. Fifth Dimension is owned by Billy Sumner and Gary Breedlove according to tax records. It is not known whether Billy Sumner and Gary Sumner are one and the same person. Rakeem told the police that he was armed the night of the murders. Florence is the son of Randall Florence. His mother is unnamed. Rakeem Florence appeared before the judge today in shackles and a jail jumpsuit. Florence has been held in juvenile detention since his arrest, but Juvenile Judge Ross Goodman ruled that Florence can be charged as an adult and will be transferred to an adult jail. He is charged with an "open count of murder," and due to his age, he will not face the death penalty. An arraignment date is set for August 28th. Six persons have been charged with murder and said to be physically inside the home of Byrd and Melanie Billings when the couple were shot multiple times. Rakeem Florence is one of the six. A seventh person charged is believed to have been on the property, but outside of the home. The case for these seven will come before a grand jury within the next week to ten days. An eighth person is charged with being "an accessory after the fact." The Pensacola News Journal reports that Mr. Florence’s parents were not present at the hearing. Randall Florence, Rakeem’s father told a pnj reporter earlier:
I know, in my heart, my child does not have the type of mentality to do anything like that, knowingly," said Rakeem Chaney Florence’s father, Randell Florence. "The hoopla about this child being a murderer and an evil person — he’s not." He said it would be easy for the older suspects "to manipulate a child’s mind.""If he was there, he didn’t know what was going on until it was too late," the father said.
Rakeem was the last of the seven to appear before a judge. He told the court today that he no longer is represented by a private attorney.
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Left to right: Booking photo of Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., Wayne Coldiron, Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Sr., Gary Lamont Sumner Jr.
Little did these poor excuses for human beings know that the Billings had surveillance inside as well as outside their home. I hope they don’t use the poor economy or loss of job as an excuse for this heinous crime as so many do. It’s nothing but a cop-out.
The Billings were well respected in the neighborhood for providing a home for children with autism, Down syndrome and other developmental problems, and Melanie has often been referred to as "an angel". Apparently, this crime is more complex than first thought. Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said that the crime happened quickly. "We were very surprised by the rapidity of this operation. It was carried out with military precision, I’ll tell you that," he said. More arrests are expected, and more charges could be added for those already in custody.
The elder Gonzalez told investigators that he was the getaway driver and waited in the van while the others broke into the Billings’ house and burglarized it, according to warrants released late Sunday. He also told police several other men were involved. The surveillance video shows three armed, masked suspects arrive in the van, enter the house and then return to the vehicle, the warrants said.
The Billings had 16 children, 12 of them adopted. The children who were there during the killings, ages 8 to 14, were interviewed by police and are now staying with other family members. The couple married 18 years ago and each had two children from previous marriages. They eventually started adopting children with developmental disabilities and other problems. The house was carefully designed to accommodate the children, according to a 2005 story in the Pensacola News Journal. A camera was in every room, and the driveway was long to keep the kids from running into the street. A large swimming pool behind the house was gated. The couple told the newspaper they wanted to share their wealth with children in need, but didn’t imagine their family would grow so large. "It just happened," Melanie told the newspaper. "I just wanted to give them a better life."
A mother and father to 16 children have been shot dead in a home invasion/robbery in Escambia County, Florida.
Escambia Sheriff’s Office say the couple, identified by a relative as Byrd and Melanie Billings, were killed just before 8pm Thursday at a house on Mobile Highway in the Beulah Community, about 17 miles northwest of Pensacola, on the Alabama/Florida state line.
A relative of one of those killed said the Billings’ had 16 children, 12 of them adopted, ranging from an infant to 11-years-old.
Escambia County Police spokesman Sergeant Ted Roy said one of the parents was shot in the head and that eight of the children were in the house at the time of the murders but had not been physically harmed.
The couple owned several local businesses and had been featured in the News Journal for their generosity taking in children with disabilities and from troubled backgrounds.
The mother-in-law of one of the grown children, Nancy Markham, said the Billings’ were found shot dead in the bedroom of their home.
“They were very good people. I don’t know what’s going to happen to those children,” she said.
Authorities are searching for three men in a red van who may have been involved in the slayings, and also examining surveillance tapes from the home.