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Wealthy Fla. Couple Not Killed by Contract Hit, Say Police

(AP Photo)
Booking photo of Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr. released by the Escambia County Sheriff Department, Pensacola, Fla.

PENSACOLA, Fla. (CBS/AP) For two weeks now, rumors have swirled that the murdered wealthy Fla. family, who had numerous adopted special needs children, were the victims of a contract hit, possibly tied to shady business connections. We felt those rumors were not solid enough to report.

Questions were also asked about how the Billings made their fortune. The answer to that is still not clear.

But Florida police have now unequivicably stated they are not investigating the murder of Byrd and Melinda Billings as a contract hit.

Sheriff's spokesman Ted Roy said Tuesday that investigators only considered a contract hit as a possibility for "a fleeting second during the initial phase of the investigation."

"Could it still be a motive? I guess it could, but someone else other than the investigators assigned to the Billings case will have to investigate it because investigators working the Billings case sure don't believe so," he said.

Investigators also said they did not anticipate further arrests.

Instead, investigators have turned their attention to one man, who has been fingered as the mastermind of the murder by one of the other men allegedly involved in the crime, according to court documents released Tuesday.

Fredrick Thornton, 19, said martial arts instructor Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 35, organized the July 9 attack and killed Byrd Billings, 66, and Melanie Billings, 43. The Billings knew Gonzalez prior to their murder and had given him money for his martial arts studio.

Thornton, who is one of the seven people charged with murder, reportedly made the comments during a recorded interrogation in jail. The statement was included in an affidavit supporting a warrant to search a mini van belonging to one of the eight people arrested in the case.

Gonzalez proclaimed his innocence in a statement he read at a court hearing after his arrest. Authorities say the home was invaded by masked men dressed as ninjas. Their images were captured on a home security system.

Byrd and Melanie Billings were killed in the bedroom of their sprawling home, while nine of their children were in other parts of the house. Another child went to a neighbor's home for help and the neighbor called authorities. The couple had 17 children total, 13 adopted, many with special needs.

(Pensacola News Journal )
Byrd and Melanie Billings

Frederick Thornton also said that after the home break-in, the seven men gathered at an antiques mall in Gulf Breeze, Fla., and met a woman in a maroon mini van where they had placed a safe from the Billings home. Mall owner Pamela Long Wiggins, 47, has been charged with being an accessory after the fact, and investigators say they dug up the safe from the backyard of her home in suburban Gulf Breeze.

Wiggins was released on $10,000 bond.

Another suspect, Wayne Coldiron, 41, told investigators he met a woman named Pam who drove a maroon mini van at a home in Gulf Breeze, before the Billings home invasion and murders.

The affidavit said the home was owned by Wiggins and "a subsequent search warrant of this residence revealed a number of firearms as well as ammunition as well as a 9 mm handgun which is the same caliber of weapon used the homicide."

Wiggins told investigators she was not involved in the home invasion but that Gonzalez was a friend and "had a key to the residence and permission to come and go as he pleased," the affidavit stated.

Attorneys for Thornton, Gonzalez and Coldiron did not immediately return phone messages Tuesday from The Associated Press. Wiggins has not returned messages seeking comment.

July 21, 2009 - Slain Fla. Family: First He Took Their Money, Then He Took Their Lives
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
July 14, 2009 - Faces of Evil? 7 in Custody in Slaying of Wealthy Fla. Couple
July 14, 2009 - Fla. Couple Killed: What Horrors Did Children Witness?
July 13, 2009 - Parents to 16 Slain for Nothing
July 10, 2009 - Parents of Sixteen Slain

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