Seven men are now charged with the murder of a wealthy Florida couple who were well known in their community for adopting special needschildren. Byrd and Melanie Billings were shot to death in their home near Pensacola last Thursday in what appears to be a well planned robbery.
Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan told the CBS Early Show on Wednesday that the men prepared for at least 30 days for the robbery, calling it "a very well-planned and well-executed operation." Morgan said investigators "verified yesterday that this team, this group of people, had been in training at least 30 days, a month, prior to the execution of it at the Billings' compound."
Morgan also said investigators believe they know who shot the couple. "We have identified, in fact, who participated or I should say was the active shooter in this case. We've been asked not to release that at this time," he told CBS.
The seven men range in age from 16-56, and include day laborers and an Air Force staff sergeant. The day laborers knew each other from working at a couple of businesses together.
Authorities say the men, some of them dressed as ninjas, broke into the compound, stole a safe and other items, and were out in ten minutes. But during that time, the Billings were killed. Nine of their 13 adopted children were home at the time -- they were not hurt. The men were captured on an elaborate video surveillance system the couple set up to keep tabs on their children.
Morgan called 35-year-old suspect Leonard Gonzalez Jr. a "pivotal person" in organizing the crime, but stopped short of identifying him as the mastermind. He is 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.
State Attorney Bill Eddins said he would seek first-degree murder indictments against all the suspects, including Gonzalez Sr. He would not say whether he will seek the death penalty.