Monday, August 31, 2009

Surveillance video shows last moments of murdered Florida couple, who had adopted numerous disabled children

From The AP:

PENSACOLA, Fla. — A Florida couple known for adopting special needs children struggled with armed intruders in the minutes before they were gunned down, with the wife apparently trying to protect one of the children, surveillance video shows.

The video viewed Thursday by reporters shows Byrd Billings first put his arms in the air, then grapple with armed men who entered the family's living room July 9. His wife, Melanie, is seen protectively grabbing what appears to be a child on the shadowy, time-lapsed video taken by the home's surveillance system.

The two were shot dead in their bedroom, where there were no surveillance cameras, before the intruders left with a safe. Photos taken by investigators that show the couple's bodies in their bedroom were also viewed by reporters Thursday.

The viewing took place at the prosecutor's office under a compromise reached by the media and survivors of the Billings, who adopted 13 special needs children and had two biological children each. A judge allowed the media to view but not copy or distribute security video taken from the home. Investigators didn't answer questions about the photographs and video.

Six men and a 16-year-old have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the slayings. A woman has pleaded not guilty as an accessory to the crime.

Footage from the 16 security cameras shows the intruders pulling up to the sprawling west Escambia home in two vehicles just after 7:05 p.m. Less than a minute later, a camera in the couple's living room shows Melanie Billings enter from the kitchen following a dog and what appears to be a child.

Byrd Billings, wearing only boxer shorts, comes in next with his arms in the air in surrender as two men, dressed in black with their faces covered, point long guns at him. A third man dressed in street clothes then points a handgun at his head.

Melanie Billings appears to grab the child protectively. Byrd Billings falls to the floor, then appears to get up and struggle with the intruders. Melanie Billings goes to Byrd's side.

The videos don't show what happens next, but authorities say the couple were killed in their bedroom. Grisly crime scene photos show the husband's body face down on the ground at the foot of the bed, with his wife lying face-up on the other side of the bed. Both are surrounded by pools of blood.

According to autopsy reports, Melanie Billings, 43, was shot twice in her chest, and in the face and head. Byrd Billings, 66, was shot multiple times in the head and legs.

The crime scene photos document dozens of bullet holes throughout the living room and bedroom and show a trail of blood along the living room floor.

Nine of the couple's children, all between the ages of 4 and 11, were in the home the night their parents were killed. All of the children having varying special needs ranging from Down's syndrome to fetal alcohol syndrome and autism.

Footage from the children's bedrooms shows two of them remaining still during the break-in.

A third one is in her bedroom alone when the attackers arrive, and their van can be seen through her window. The girl walks to the window and appears to watch the men enter. The girl then gets back in the bed and pulls the covers around her. She gets up a second time before returning to bed and putting her head on the pillow as the tape ends.

Previously released records of interviews by sheriff's investigators show that one child told investigators that he heard a knock on the door and that "two bad men" said, "You're going to die, one, two, three" and then, "no way, no way."

The records show that child was asleep in his parents' bed when they were killed.

Investigators have said Pensacola-area karate instructor Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 35, was the ringleader of the attack. They say his father, Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Sr., drove the getaway car. Besides the Gonzalezes, also charged are Wayne Coldiron, 41; Donnie Ray Stallworth, 28; Gary Lamont Sumner Jr., 30; Frederick Lee Thornton Jr., 19; and Rakeem Florence, 16.

Surveillance cameras on the outside of the home captured suspects in two vehicles wearing ninja garb and black masks entering the couple's sprawling house.

Investigators say a safe with items of little value was taken from the family's home. The robbers missed a second safe that held $164,000 in cash, a lawyer for the victims' family has said.