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Murdered Fla. Couple Had $164,000 in Second Safe

(Pensacola News Journal )
Byrd and Melanie Billings with their children.

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) The suspects who robbed and killed a Florida couple in July made off with a safe that contained few valuables, but missed a second safe that held $164,000 in cash, a lawyer for the victims' family acknowledged Tuesday.

"Contrary to rumors of as much as $12 million in the home the night of the murders, the second safe contained $164,000 in cash, some antique jewelry and assorted legal documents," Robert Beasley, the attorney for the slain Panhandle couple, said in a statement.

The safe that was stolen from the home of Byrd and Melanie Billings contained only their children's prescription medications, family documents and jewelry with sentimental value, officials have said.

The Billings, well known in the Pensacola area for adopting special needs children, were shot to death July 9. Surveillance cameras captured men dressed as ninjas and wearing black masks entering the couple's sprawling house, stealing a safe and leaving in less than four minutes.

Beasley said in the statement that the second safe was not stolen and contained the money, but no drugs, guns or other items to suggest illegal activity. It's not known if the suspects were looking for that safe, Beasley said.

The money was a cash reserve for the family's financing business, Beasley said. The family ran Worldco Financial Services next to a used car lot they operated. Authorities have removed the cash as possible evidence, he said.

Meanwhile, a Florida grand jury indicted seven men in the case Tuesday on two counts each of first-degree murder and one count each of home-invasion robbery.

The indictments give State Attorney Bill Eddins the option of seeking the death penalty against Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 35, the man suspected of pulling the trigger, and his six co-defendants.

The men are due in an Escambia County court for formal arraignments on the new charges Thursday.

Byrd, 66, and Melanie Billings, 43, had four biological and 13 adopted children. Nine were home and in other parts of the estate during the home invasion.

Investigators found the stolen safe in the back yard of a home that Pamela Long Wiggins, 47, had rented to one of the suspects. Wiggins, an antique shop owner, has been charged as an accomplice in the case. Her attorney has pleaded not guilty on her behalf.

PREVIOUSLY ON CRIMESIDER

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July 16, 2009 - Fla. Couple Murder: Blogging from the Scene
July 16, 2009 - Mystery Deepens Around Execution of Couple Who Raised 16 Kids
July 15, 2009 - Men Trained for Month in Wealthy Couple's Slaying, Sheriff to CBS
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July 14, 2009 - Fla. Couple Killed: What Horrors Did Children Witness?
July 13, 2009 - Parents to 16 Slain for Nothing
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  • Edecio Martinez

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