Billings case: Wednesday, July 15 part 2

Wednesday, July 15

Jean Duncan and her boyfriend Glenn Burnett come around 6 p.m. to the ECSO to proved statement to Investigator Tama Barber., who interviews them separately.

Duncan tells Barber that she had known Pamela Wiggins (who she calls Pam Long) for about eight years and has done various odd jobs for her. Hugh Wiggins had asked to give an estimate for painting the Soundview Trail house. When she heard Hugh Wiggins was back in town, she called and set up a time to bring him the estimate. Duncan and Glenn Burnett arrived at the Wiggins house after they got off work. Hugh answered the door, told them the he was having a meeting and asked that they wait upstairs because he was expecting someone. Wiggins asked Burnett if he was interested in making some money and if he had any qualms about how he made money. When Burnett refused, Wiggins told to go upstairs.

Pam Wiggins took them upstairs where Duncan noticed photographs of Hugh and Pam together. She asked if they were married, since she knew Pam was already married and was still in the process of getting a divorce. Pam didn’t answer at first but returned with wedding pictures of her and Hugh. She said that Patrick Gonzalez was their best man and only he and his wife Tabitha were there for the wedding that took place in Fort Walton Beach December 31 in Fort Walton Beach.

Burnett noticed a black man in the backyard with Hugh Wiggins and another white male. Feeling uncomfortable, Duncan and Burnett decided to leave. As they left the house an unknown white male was on the front porch and a new bucket truck was sitting in the front yard. As they got into their van to leave, Hugh Wiggins walked over and said it wasn’t anything personal against them but he had to have a meeting.

Duncan told Barber that she and Burnett suspected the Wiggins might be selling drugs and because Pam Wiggins was having financial problems. She could not identify the black man, but described the white male as having short brown hair, taller than Patrick Gonzalez, 50-55 years old and dressed “fancy.” He was not one of the men arrested for the Billings case.

On July 3, Duncan said that Pam Wiggins came to her home to pay her for a job. She told Duncan that Hugh Wiggins thought his best friend whom he has known since childhood had put a hit out on him. Duncan was shown a photo lineup that included Cab Tice and didn’t recognize anyone in the lineup as being at Wiggins house earlier.

Burnett tells Barber that he has met Patrick Gonzalez on two previous occasions. He confirms Duncan’s story. He adds that when Hugh asked him about making some money, that he replied, “Stuff always comes back to haunt you later.” Burnett says that Pam Wiggins said that she had married Wiggins for tax reasons. She did tell them that she was still married to a man named James who lived in Alabama.

When he and Duncan went downstairs to leave, Burnett saw Patrick Gonzalez, who he has met Patrick Gonzalez on a previous occasion, in a room with Hugh. When Burnett first met Patrick in 2008 at cook-out at the Wiggins residence, Hugh Wiggins said that they worked together. “He was very arrogant.”

Gonzalez had said that he worked in risk management. When Burnett asked him what company that he worked for, Gonzalez said, “No, I just take care of business.”

Burnett recognized the black male from the newspaper photos as Donnie Stallworth. He didn’t pick Cab Tice out of the photo lineup either as the white male at the house.

He tells Barber that Pam Wiggins called Duncan the morning of the murders to the name and number of the resident that lives in the Soundview house and said, “You need to contact him to take care of the rotten wood on the bottom of the door because I’m gonna be available.”

Burnett thought this was out of character for Pam because “normally she’s in control, she’s the one that pays you, she’ the one that, you know, hires you and whatever…”

At 6:40 p.m. Investigator Chris Baggett was at Hurlburt Air Force Base outside of Fort Walton Beach interviewing Staff Sgt. Robin Clemens, a friend of Sgt. Donnie Stallworth. They both work on guns for the C-130 gunship.

Clemens says that Stallworth sent him a text message on Monday, July 13: “Choose wisely the friends you keep. I gotta go turn myself in. Take care of my family.”

Clemens texted back for Stallworth to give his wife Tasha his phone number.

Staff Sgt. Clemens had no knowledge of the planning of the Billings incident. He can’t remember if he saw Stallworth coming on to his shift around 8 or 9 p.m. on Wednesday or Thursday evening. They talked and Clemens remembers nothing unusual about the conversation.

At 7:30 p.m. Investigator Brian Shorette and Larry Meadows went to 6905 Jackson Street to interview Stephen Flatten Hartley, age 45. Hartley says that Pam Long, for whom he had done a/c work on her car about three years ago, brought in her car on Friday, July 10. She said the air conditioning wasn’t cooling as well.

Hartley wasn’t there. He was working at Carpenter’s Campers. Long had called him and said she was dropping off the car. When he got home, it was in a car cover. He estimates that she dropped it off between 2:30 and 3 p.m.

“I talked to her Friday in the early morning, probably 10 a.m. in the morning, 9 and I told her I couldn’t get to it for awhile so she said she’d bring it and put it in the car cover.”

The car was locked and Hartley had the keys, which Long had left under his mat. He checked on the car Tuesday approximately 6:30 and put the cover back on it about 7 p.m.

Hartley called the ECSO around 3 p.m. when he saw the news reports about Pam Long missing.

Investigator Lee Tyree gets a report from Special Agent George Bruno that details his obtaining a video from Academy Sports in Pensacola. The search of the Wiggins residence had found on the downstairs desk a Academy Sports receipt dated June 22. The video shows Hugh and Pam Wiggins buying .223 caliber ammunition

Deputy Michael John Dekort is dispatched to the home of Malcolm Thomas, the Escambia County Superintendent of Schools. Thomas reports that on July 13 he received a text message on his private cell phone from name and number that he didn’t recognize, “Poff!!!” Thomas deleted it. Then on July15 at 8:23 p.m. he received the same message. This time he recognized the name “Poff “ from the news reports and notified the ECSO.

Thomas stated he had been friends with Billings for the last 15 years. The text was from 512-636-5741.

Sheriff Morgan walks out of the press conference down the hall to ECSO parking lot to be interviewed by Anderson Cooper on his CNN show “Anderson 360.”

Cooper opens his show: “Tonight, we begin with breaking news: just moments ago, the sheriff from Pensacola, Florida announcing a new arrest in the brutal murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings at their home apparently during a robbery with nine of their kids in the house. This woman, Pamela Long Wiggins — first sought and then brought in for questioning — now under arrest as an alleged accessory to the crime. We have details ahead.”

The other segments that will be included in the program whether Michael Jackson’s hair catching on fire in 1984 set him on a path to drug addiction and eventually death and a feature on the roots of first lady, Michelle Obama, a descendant of slaves and South Carolina slave owners.

The Billings case segment begins with a video clip from the press conference that just ended. On the screen is Sheriff Morgan telling the public that Pamela Long Wiggins has been taken into custody and charged with accessory after the fact for felony murder.

David Mattingly reports on Patrick Gonzalez, who Cooper describes as a tenant of Wiggins, the alleged ring leader and “a man with a dark past and a long record of criminal violence.”

David Mattingly begins his report with a WEAR TV clip from 2006 showing Gonzalez and his wife Tabitha teaching with teaching a group of children, ages 5 to 12, martial arts in school gym.

He says that a number of people have told CNN that Patrick made a great first impression, including his former landlord Joann Gers of Gulf Breeze, who rented to a house to the Gonzalez family in 2004.

Gers says in the taped interview, “He just looked like a very confident young man but that was very honest.”

Patrick introduced his father, Leonard, to Gers as Santa Rosa County Sheriff Wendell Hall to vouch for Patrick’s character.

“We believed him,” says Gers. “He was sitting right down on the couch next to me.”

It wasn’t until the New Journal published the picture of Leonard Gonzalez after his arrest on Saturday that Gers realized the man who sat on his couch five years earlier wasn’t Sheriff Hall.

Mattingly reports on how Patrick tried to talk his way out of jail during his first court appearance.

“Gonzalez Jr. was articulate and seemingly credible in stating his innocence but not enough to get a county judge to lower his million dollar bond,” Mattingly says before showing a quick clip of Gonzalez claiming that there is no hard evidence against him.

When Cooper asks how Patrick was able to fool the community so easily, even though he has at least ten prior arrests, Mattingly says, “You saw how credible he was, how composed and articulate he was in laying out his case, saying that this case is built on circumstantial evidence, that he doesn’t belong in prison.”

As Mattingly signs off, Cooper talks about the complexity of this case.

“We’ve been getting new developments almost hourly in the case yet, for every arrest, every news conference, every question answered, a new one seems to come up. Was robbery really the only motive? What were the killers after?”

Ed Lavandera tries to answer those questions. He replays the video of the red Dodge van pulling into the front yard of the Billings residence and the two “Ninjas” running across the side yard to the house.

He asks what were they after?

Lavandera plays a clip of State Attorney Bill Eddins, saying, “I think the safest, easiest, clearest thing to say that the primary motive in this case is robbery; home invasion, robbery.”

The CNN reporter says the crime doesn’t seem that simple and tells the viewers about the medium-sized safe that was taken from the home, the safe the authorities have yet to what it contained.

He reports that a federal law enforcement source has told CNN, “This was not a drug hit. There’s no connection we know of to the Mexican mafia. It appears to be money driven.”

Lavendera reports on how the allegedly well-planned crime had seemingly overlooked disabling the home surveillance system. He says that authorities believe the person assigned to the task abandoned the mission.

He ends his report with a brief clip of Ashley Markham saying, “I feel like my mother is working through me. She — everything that I do I can feel her there with me. And if I have to be a matriarch, then that’s what I’m prepared to do. Whatever I need to do to keep our family together and keep these children happy and in their every day lives, I’m prepared to do it.”

Lavendera says the children are in a safe, undisclosed place and being well cared for. A trust has been set-up and the oldest daughter promises to keep the family intact.

After a commercial break, Cooper interviews Morgan, who is sitting under bright laws on a hot, humid night in the parking lot of the ECSO. It is his sixth national television interview of the day, his fourteenth since the murders. He has been up since 4 a.m. and the strain shows somewhat on his face, but he remains confident and forceful.

Morgan talks a little about the Pamela Long Wiggins and her possible involvement in the Billings and says that he holding a joint press conference tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Central time with the State Attorney’s Office to release the specifics on that.

Cooper asks Morgan about the possibility of more people being involved.

“Do you know specifically who they are? You’ve been talking about looking for somebody who may have had knowledge of the security system because it seems that the accused in this case believed the security system was off.

“So maybe somebody was supposed to turn that off and did not fulfill that part of the mission. Is that correct? And do you know who that person might be?”

Morgan says, “That’s true — that’s true, Anderson….At this time we’ve developed two persons of interest along those lines. And again, at this point in the investigation, it’s not something that we could share with the press, with the media, I should say.

And that, again, when you review this operation, the one gaping hole in this is why was that system left on? And we are of the opinion that they thought upon entering the Billings’ compound, that in fact, the system had been disabled.”

Morgan says that investigators have yet focused on that aspect of the case, but they will begin the interviews of these persons of interest within the next day or so. He doesn’t reveal the names of those persons.

The sheriff also avoids talking about what was in the safe taken from the Billings residence.

“I want to state here and refocus for the public what we have done throughout this investigation. People need to understand that the focus of our investigation has been the murder of Byrd and Melanie Billings, specifically that–who are the perpetrators of this crime?

We believe we’ve got the seven suspects that are involved this violent crime in custody today. We are working on those folks now that worked on the periphery of this who may have had some involvement that aided and abetted in some way the commission of this felony.

We have not–and I repeat–not investigated any member of the Billings family for any crime nor have we even looked at that. We’ve received no complaints and at this point and juncture in this investigation, we have no reason to do that.

Cooper questions Morgan’s persistent use of the phrase “robbery was a motive.”

“Maybe it’s just a syntax thing. You didn’t say The motive. Are there other possible motives?

“Yes, sir,” Morgan replies. “We believe there are. And again, we’re developing those in conjunction with the state attorney’s office.”

Cooper addresses the media buzz about federal agencies being involved in the investigation

“I believe, Mr. Cooper, there was some confusion in that. Last week we held a joint conference in my office, in my conference room where we brought in the bureau, the DEA, ATF, IRS, ICE, almost every federal investigative agency was there.

“During the conduct of this investigation, one of the things that was intriguing to us and also very frustrating was the amount and volume of information that we had developed on other individuals, other crimes that may have been committed, et cetera.

“And so I have both the legal and ethical responsibility to pass that information on to the appropriate agencies. Now, we have, in fact, briefed agencies along the way during the conduct of this investigation as a courtesy to keep them updated on our investigation.

I think somehow it was confused that the DEA somehow was involved in our investigation. And I want to state here that to the best of my knowledge as a Sheriff of Escambia County, they are not.”

Cooper asks Morgan if he and his investigators have an overall uunderstanding of what happened and why. “Or do you feel like there’s more to this story that the public has yet to learn?”

“There will be more to the story in Florida, sir, because we work with the prosecution at this stage in this case. We have basically deferred to the state attorney on the release of much of this information. But it will also come out at trial once the prosecution begins their case and of course, the defense also.

“And so the elements that we can’t speak to today will, of course, come out during the trial. But what I want to assure the public of is this; we have the seven individuals that entered the Billings’ compound and committed this violent crime. They’re in custody in the Escambia County jail today.

And again, we’re working on those folks who may have had some peripheral involvement with this; who may have such as with the alarm system had a key component or element to play that chose not to but our community is safe from that perspective.

We do not have any violent offenders associated with this case that are still at large to the best of my knowledge.”

Copyright © 2009 Rick Outzen