July 15, 2009 -- A woman sought as a "person of interest" in the killing of Florida super parents Byrd and Melanie Billings was charged late Wednesday with being an accessory after the fact for felony murder.
Pamela Long Wiggins, 47, had returned to Florida Wednesday with a police escort for questioning, just hours after police held up her photo in a nationally televised news conference. She is the eighth person to be charged in connection with the case that has rocked the Florida panhandle.
Wiggins is a real estate agent with ties to two of the men already in custody. Police don't believe she was at the house at the time of the shooting.
Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said in a news conference that Wiggins has a lawyer and spoke with his investigators. More details of her alleged involvement in the case will be provided at a news conference set for 10 a.m. ET Thursday.
Wiggins was spotted by Alabama police in a marina in the town of Orange Beach and apparently did not know police were searching for her.
Wiggins is a "family friend" and landlord to Leonard Gonzalez Jr., who police called a "pivotal" player in the July 9 double murder, Morgan said.
"We know she was associated with [Gonzalez Jr.] up until the day of the murders," Morgan said.
Morgan says that Wiggins has several aliases, including Pamela Wiggins, Pamela Malden, Pamela Long and Pamela Laverne Long Coco, according to NorthEscambia.com.
Eight suspects are now in custody and there are other person of interest, in what Morgan called a "perfect executed" murder. However, police said they believe they have all those who entered the house in custody.
One other unidentified person of interest, police believe, was someone who was tasked with disabling the Billings' elaborate surveillance system, but failed to do so.
"Obviously there was supposed to be an eight or ninth person" that was supposed to take care of the survellance, Morgan said. "To the best of my knowledge [that person of interest] was not in the home" during the murders.
According to public records consistent with information provided by Morgan, Wiggins is a 47-year-old Georgia woman who was charged with felony grand theft in 1988. That charge was dropped to a misdemeanor to which she pleaded guilty.
The deaths of the Billings couple shocked the country because they had dedicated their lives to caring for disabled children. They had four children of their own, but adopted 12 others, including children with Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.
Earlier Wednesday, the Billings' oldest daughter said she is shocked at the brutal killings that left her and 16 other siblings parentless.
"I just can't believe that there's people in the world that are capable of this type of hate," Ashley Markham, 26, told ABC's "Good Morning America" today. "This is just unimaginable."
Markham's parents, Byrd and Melanie Billings, were shot to death July 9 in what police have called a highly organized, military style operation in which robbery was the primary motive. A safe was among the items taken from the home.
Two of the seven suspects, 35-year-old Leonard Gonzalez Jr., and 28-year-old Donnie Ray Stallworth, had military training, police say. Stallworth worked in the Air Force's elite Special Operations Command with an aircraft maintenance squadron and Gonzalez was a former soldier in the National Guard,The Associated Press reported.
Several of the suspects, including Gonzalez, have criminal records. Wayne Coldiron, 41, served two years in a Tennessee prison in the early 1990s after killing a man during a fight.
Gonzalez stood before a Florida judge Tuesday and defended himself, saying there was "no hard evidence that links [him] to the scene of the crime July 9."
But Gonzalez's former sister-in-law, Jennifer Herkel, feared his violent side and said he threatened her family over the Internet. "If he would have gotten away with this crime, my family would have been the next one you would be reading about shot in the house," she said.
The Billings were parents to 17 children, 13 adopted and four biological. Nine of them were at home when police say the murders took place.
"We are holding up the best that we possibly know how," Markham said.
Two Teens Last Major Suspects Taken Into Custody
At a press conference Tuesday, Markham stood with Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan when he announced investigators had taken all the major suspects into custody, including a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old.
"We have found them, they are in custody," Morgan said as he hugged Markham.
There were "no direct ties" between the alleged murderers and the slain couple but at least some of the individuals arrested had been on the Billings' property in the past, said Morgan.
One of the suspects, Leonard P. Gonzalez Sr., 56, owned a pressure washing business and had hired three of the suspects as day laborers as he needed them, according to Morgan. Gonzalez Sr. is believed to have been the group's getaway driver, according to Morgan.
The four other suspects, including the 16-year-old, had worked at an auto detailing business in nearby Okaloosa County.
Coldiron had been on the Billings' property "at least one time," said Morgan.
It was not immediately clear what type of work Coldiron had performed for Byrd, 66, and Melanie, 43, Billings.
All seven will likely be charged with an open count of murder, and the juvenile will be treated as an adult, said Florida State Attorney Bill Eddins.
Leonard P. Gonzalez Sr., father of Leonard P. Gonzalez Jr., was initially charged with tampering with evidence for allegedly trying to disguise the red van that police believe was used as the getaway vehicle. He is likely to see his charge increased to an open count of murder as well.
'Well-Planned, Well-Executed' Operation
There is still one more local individual that has yet to be arrested who police indicated may have been involved in the crime after it occurred. Morgan declined to say when an arrest of this individual might occur.
Eddins confirmed that the main motive in the crime was robbery.
"They did take items that you would normally expect to be taken in a robbery," said Eddins. A medium-size safe was taken from the home, according to Eddins, who declined to specify what was inside the safe.
Since the murders last week, police have repeatedly characterized the suspects' operation as having "military precision."
Morgan confirmed that some of the individuals in custody do have a history of military service."We have info that indicates there was a good amount of practice that was involved," said Morgan. "It was very a well-planned and well-executed operation."
The suspects were on the Billing's property for 10 minutes and were in and out of the house in less than four minutes, Morgan said.
Two teams stormed the house on Thursday evening from different entrances and successfully navigated the large home before allegedly shooting and killing the Billings.
Nine of the couple's children were in the house at the time.
One team of two men entered the front of the house while another team of two men, all dressed in black ninja gear, entered through an unlocked back door of the home, he said.
Morgan speculated that one man may have been responsible for disabling the security system, but failed, allowing investigators to use surveillance videos to identify several suspects.
Federal agencies with video-enhancing capabilities have been assisting the investigation by reviewing surveillance video from the Billings' home as well as local stores where the suspects are believed to have purchased the ninja garb they allegedly wore during the incident.
"This was a well-planned, methodical operation," Morgan said. "There was planning that went into this operation."
In a surveillance tape from the Billings home that Morgan called "chilling and shocking," two men emerge from among trees in the rear property and hurry to a back door of the house.
They are believed to have been traveling in a metallic blue flake or gold flake Escalade that has not yet been located.
Robbery 'Prime' Motive, but Is There More?
Asked why the Billings family may have been targeted for this robbery, Morgan speculated that it may have had to do with the family being well-known in the community.
"The 'why question' in any crime that occurs is one you wrangle with," the sheriff said. "It could be a very long time before we know why this family was selected."
"The children are coping very well," an emotional Markham said during a news conference Monday. "They are with lots of family and friends are not asking a lot of questions."
Byrd Billings managed several businesses that allowed him and his wife to be able to take care of so many children.
Morgan described him as an entrepreneur who "was involved in a lot of different businesses."
A memorial for the Billings will be held Friday morning, with a burial to follow.