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Billings Home Invasion Murders: Trial of Wayne Coldiron Begins

Billings Home Invasion Murders: Trial of Wayne Coldiron Begins
Byrd and Melanie Billings with their Children (Pensacola News Journal)

PENSACOLA, Fla. (CBS/WKRG) The double murder trial of Wayne Coldiron, one of seven men accused of the brutal home invasion murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings, began Tuesday with defense attorneys arguing that Coldiron feared the "mastermind," Patrick Gonzalez Jr., and only went along with the plan because he thought he would be killed otherwise.

Coldiron is the second of the seven men to stand trial for the brutal 2009 murders of the Florida couple who dedicated their lives to helping special needs children. Byrd and Melanie Billings raised 16 children, 12 of them special needs children they adopted.

Gonzales, the alleged "mastermind," was convicted in October 2010 of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of home-invasion robbery for leading the July 9, 2009, attack on the Billings' Beulah, Fla. home.

The jury recommended the death penalty and the judge will decide February 17 whether to accept that recommendation.

Nine of the Billings children were in the house that night on July 9, 2009 when the gunmen, dressed in all black, broke into the house in a robbery "designed with maximum shock and awe," Assistant State Attorney John Molchan told the jury Tuesday, according to CBS affiliate WKRG. Fortunately none of the children were physically harmed.

Molchan acknowledged that Gonzalez, 36, was the triggerman who killed Byrd and Melanie Billings but said Coldiron, 42, was an active participant, carrying a pistol into the home, the station reported.

Coldiron's attorneys did not attempt to dispute his participation in the invasion, rather they made the argument that Coldiron had been "dragged" into the plan weeks after the other six men were and that Coldiron believed he'd be killed if he backed out of the home invasion.

"He was pulled into something on July 9th. He was pulled into something he didn't want to be involved in," the attorney said, according to WKRG.

The first witness to testify Tuesday was the Billings' adult daughter, Ashley Markham, who told the jury she found out about the home invasion and murders when she tried to call her mom and instead one of her special needs brothers answered the phone. "He was very frantic and screaming into the phone," Markham told the jury, the station reported.

A nurse who lived on the Billings property at the time of the murders testified that one of the Billings' special needs daughters ran to her house to get help after the shootings.

"When she came to the door she was just pounding and pounding and pounding on the door," said Spencer, who testified that she then went to the Billings' house and found Byrd and Melanie Billings lying dead in their master bedroom, according to the station.

Two other accused, who admitted to entering the home armed with guns, are expected to testify, according to the station. Rakeem Florence, 18, and Frederick Thornton, 20, were allowed to enter pleas to lesser charges of second-degree murder in exchange for their testimony against their alleged co-conspirators.

Donnie Stallworth, 29, the fifth person accused of entering the house, is scheduled for trial on first degree murder charges on February 28. Gary Sumner and Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Sr., who investigators believe were the getaway drivers, still face trial, WKRG reports.

Coldiron faces mandatory life in prison sentences if convicted of two counts of first-degree murder.


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