“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
When I was 6 years old, my father asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I said I wanted to change the world. He looked at me completely blown away by what his little girl had said. He smiled and said, "Then don't let anyone or anything stop you."
As children, we are shown the world in terms of black and white - good and evil. As we get older, we see that there are varying degrees betwixt the two. We see good people do bad things and bad people do good things. The line between good and evil is blurred. We have become desensitized to some amount of wrongness in our lives. Some things are marginal but acceptable. Random kind acts are fewer while more frequent acts are sub-criminal in nature, like indifference. The Golden Rule does not apply to people as it once did. That is why I decided to make a difference. I knew I could prove that one person with no formal skill, but a keen sense of right and wrong, could still stand up and be heard. Please help me be heard.
For months, I wondered after his conviction, who was working to help Patrick. I finally wrote him asking him as much. When he replied to me, my life changed. He was shocked to hear from me because of our past friction. He told me his mother was essentially his only salvation. Legally speaking, that no one had offered to understand his story. He had some connection with the last attorney, Randy Etheridge but Randy was but one man fighting a fight he could not win. He had holstered his sword and moved on. No one else was seeing what I was seeing. After a tremendous amount of soul searching and praying, I decided I would listen to Patrick. And if there was anything I could do, I would do. My husband told me he was behind me if I felt I needed to do this. He had no love for Patrick. He despised him but his situation was not right and if I thought I could help I should.
I come to this story in an unconventional fashion. I was neither a friend nor fan of Patrick Poff (as I knew him). I was not a person of any legal skill save for the law experience I had as an underling for the great Judge William Mapother a lifetime ago. I was not an activist. I was not do-gooder. I was in the slums of hell in my life when I picked up this cross. My husband and I lost everything in the economic recession of 2009. When I say we lost everything, I am not speaking with exaggeration. With 3 children in tow, we were evicted, lost jobs, had our only vehicle repossessed and living with my "mother"-in-law in pure angst in a place that must be the only earthly version of hell--Detroit.
My 2 oldest kids were in high school and understood the entirety of the situation and the family downfall. My husband was in the throes of a depression being the man of the house who could not provide because now, employers didn't see 15 years practical experience but instead of a college degree. We were at the lowest of lows when I first saw Patrick on my TV screen. During my reinvention of life, I went back to school and found a passion for criminology and psychology. The timing of this was spot on with Patrick's trial. I took his case to criminology classes to discuss. I turned in extra credit commentaries of the trial. I examined everything that came out as did my husband Chris.
This is how I began this book a bit over 2 years ago:
I am almost 40 years old. I couldn’t believe it. I was looking out the big bay window of the old lady’s house. I swore I’d never come back here. Yet here I am. This never would have been what I would have predicted my future to be like. I always thought that by this point in my life, I would have the house with the white picket fence in a quiet cul-de-sac, but I guess this was not destined to be--at least, for the time being.
When Chris and I got married, it was the proverbial love story. He came into my life at a very low point and he rescued me from myself. We fell in love and the rest of the mess be damned. Over the years, we have had rough patches—financially, emotionally. Here we are 20 years later stronger and more in love than that very first day. We’ve had a great deal of tests over the years. Some we didn’t fair too well on. But the big ones made us stronger.
One particular event that was a test of our resolve came when Chris got out of the Army in 1998. He went to Korea in February 1998. With Chris not there, I realized how utterly overwhelmed I was. I was married—not only that I had 2 little kids. Sitting in a house on base at Fort Knox, I felt ill equipped to handle this. I fell into a deep depression. Chris had tried everything he could to get out of going, but it was futile. I stayed in a misery of my own head for a couple of months, not knowing how I got to this point and more importantly how I could make this work. Psychologists call this “role confusion”. My father was my parental role model. We had a very close relationship which consisted of him standing back to let me fly but here I was now alone with the kids, I didn’t want to fly. I wanted the refuge of his protection and the ability to retreat back to childhood, but it was too late for that.
Drowning in my own deep seeded depression and angst over my utter failure in live. I had so much potential and ambition. Yet here I sit penniless, broken and consumed by the place I now called "home". It was no home. It was a house in an area I had never been fond of with a woman who was too self-absorbed to be compassionate. I was a huge waste of potential.
I had to pull myself up but I didn't know how. I had always gotten every job I ever interviewed for but now I was middle aged and devoid of hope or ambition. I was my mother. Scraping and scrambling for mere subsistence. I had sunk to a level of doing every and anything I could to keep my family afloat casting legal aside along with morality and every sense of family I had ever known. It broke my heart but what were my options. I had rent to pay. I had birthdays, Christmas impending and not one cent of income for my family of five. My husband was just as beaten down. He had been abused so badly at his job prior to having to walk away from it for many reasons. He withdrew, thinking going to be in his mother's comfort would be the sanctuary he needed to heal and rebuild.
I remembered that experience from years before; not only was this house never sanctuary, it was no place to recover because of the monster-in-law's entitlement ethic. See she did not see the world as everyone else did. All acts--no matter how random or disconnected were attempts to screw her. So every gesture was cafefully measure sans compassion or kindness but valued in monetary terms and the idea of virtual servitude. She owned us and she asserted it into every conversation as well as volatile rants on an unpredictable wave of fits of rage ending in the ultimate authority over my children, my husband and my soul. No healing was to happen here. Only the ripping away of bandages with prodding and poking to keep the wound ever oozing with self-hatred and self-loathing. How do you survive this with no protection? How do you manage to retain a relationship with teenage children with a mad woman making and changing rules whimsically under the ever chanted mantra "this is my goddamn house and I can do whatever the fuck I want". How do you establish any sense of self with constant reminders of ineptitude and ownership? How do you parent children in a bad situation that is so emotionally damning that death would be a preferred option? How do you justify any sense of self or rehabilitation of the soul with the constant raining down of condemnation? I had given up on God. I felt like he left me in the desert. I regained the persona of the scared 9 year old staying home alone at night, begging for help and going through the motions but I wasn’t sure how I fit into the world around me. This was a cycle of abuse I had experienced since the day of my parents’ divorce. Abandonment around people, mistrust and utter lack of understanding why I could be in this circumstance, AGAIN.
My Achilles heel as my husband says was my desire to run when things got too overwhelming. I had always run. In 2000, I got the kids and went to Pensacola. Chris went reluctantly, but he was on shaky ground as well. He had spent his entire grown up life in the military and the security blanket of always having shelter and a net below woven with resources that was always there to catch him—us. Now that was gone. We were on our own. As a kid of 22, I did what I knew best, I ran to the one place I knew—home.
But when I got there, I still felt out of place. I got my old job back at Village Inn. I fell into old vices—drinking, particularly. I made a friend at work. Jennifer Herkel. She was nice and welcoming. When I got married, I let most of my friends by the way side. It was nice to be me again. Not just Chris’s wife or Nicholaus & Shawne’s mother. In my mind, there was a difference to which I could not reconcile.
Jenn was single and carefree. She liked to drink and go out maximize her childhood recklessness that gave up so long ago. I was jealous. I felt like I missed out and Chris was completely anti-reckless. He had sown his oats and was just wanting a family. While I wanted a family, I wanted to still be that reckless kid a bit more.
This is where Patrick came in. He was a regular at Village Inn. He had all the younger girls charmed with his good looks and claims of being “connected”. He reminded me so much of my uncle, who was this kind of charming but there was never any kindness associated with it. Every nice word and gesture came with a price. I felt that Pat was that sort of person. I tolerated him but by no means “liked” him. There was an agenda. I knew his motives for everything was calculated.
Not too long after I started back at Village Inn, Jenn’s little sister came to town. Her name was Katie. She was pretty, and very young. The sisters were very close with a love/hate relationship, but in the end, they always made up. Katie started working at Village Inn in the evening while Jenn worked in the morning. They were servers and of course, Katie crossed paths with Pat. She was an adrenaline junkie and she seemed to hit it off with Pat. They eventually married.
In the meantime, during my self-perpetuated fall from grace and sanity, I made my husband go to Michigan to live with his mother because I was enjoying this recklessness I had submerged myself in entirely too much. He took Shawne and went to Michigan to live with his mother. Nicholaus and I stayed in Florida. Somehow I was unable to see the absolutely complete 360 I’d made from responsible person who was logical and realistic to an impulsive, self-centered person that I could only describe as my mother. The realization of that in the back of my mind only fueled the need to drown my sorrows and feelings of absolutely inadequacy. I’ve always had a high need for approval and this was a complete conflagration of all the approval I ever received. I was just like the rest…my mother…my brother. That fact in itself was the fuel that prolonged the misery and self-annihilation.
After several months of living with the worst version of myself in this purgatory with Katie, Jenn and Patrick, I finally saw the true reflection in the mirror. I saw the broken person I had become. I saw the paradise that was my family I had given up. How could I fix this? How could I fix myself and my family? I had abandoned everything that meant the world to me for an existence where everything and everyone was transient. Nothing had real meaning. It was a dream-like haze that had lifted almost in a snap of the fingers. I immediately regretted the time I gave away to this self-deprecating delusion. How stupid was I? If I had been watching from the outside looking in I would question the split personality-esque behavior. It seemed randomly selfish and fleeting. That’s not me…at all. I missed the routine family things. Not knowing how to make things right with Chris, I picked up the phone to find out what it would take for me to make this up to him.
Graciously he welcomed me back. I took Nic and we went to Michigan in 1999. I had seen things I had never seen before. I escaped the insanity. It’s true that you never know what you have until it is gone. You can’t know love unless you know hurt and hate. You can’t enjoy peace until you have experienced chaos. You can’t appreciate stability until you live without it. This was a chapter I wanted to close and leave behind forever.
That is until I saw Patrick Poff’s face appear on my television in July of 2009. In an instant all the guilt and shame of my poor decision-making and my sophomoric attempt to indulge my self-destructive inner child returned. What the hell was I thinking? Those days demeaned my upbringing. I had disgraced to my own name. Now, this is the flood of emotion and memories engulfing me as I saw Patrick being arrested for murder.
In the very beginning, I told Pat that if I caught him in a lie or I found evidence that he did this, I would walk away without looking back. Almost 3 years later, I am still here. He sends me information--nuggets of insight that point me in the right direction. The breadcrumbs seem to send through a series of events and thresholds that is more suited for something out of a movie more than real life scenarios. Yet I know that these characters exist and that evil does exist within it. Sometimes it feels like I have followed him down a rabbit hole to a destination that is more suited for the Mad Hatter. He tells me things that have been whispered about--Pensacola lore-- about “supposed” organized crime. At first, I really thought that it was more a matter of people bringing their imaginations to a sleepy little town. You know to liven it up and trying to make this small town into some seedy Vegas strip. However, on the other side of the looking glass, there is nothing made up regarding organized crime in Pensacola. As I followed the trail of documents, I find that this is just a huge jigsaw puzzle. As all the pieces fall into place, it becomes very clear that people knew Patrick wasn't the one who shot these people and that is conspiracy or felonious collusion. There are law enforcement agents and officers of the court sending an innocent man to Death Row. A sleepy little place like Pensacola, is a festering wound oozing with various cancers, like the local government and the car dealers. I am sure there is more but so far this is all I can prove. All the legends and myths about organized crime are true. All the pieces of these murders start to fit. The line between fact and the painted tapestry presented by the state of Florida is paved with one man’s sacrificial blood, Patrick’s.
In doing a primary, public records search, I found that there numerous court cases involving Bud Billings. Bad debts, worthless checks, domestic violence and—adoption fraud? How does a man have 9 foster kids with a conviction of adoption fraud? This doesn’t make any sense. How can a government agency overlook that kind of past?
There plain as day was an intricate scam over a baby. In 1990, a woman checked herself into the hospital in active labor. She claims to be Cindy Billings, Bud’s first wife. She bears a boy. Bud is listed as the baby’s father. He is named Justin.
Through a series of insurance claims, it is revealed that this woman was not Cindy Billings but Vickie Lynn Taylor. This was an under-the-table adoption. Vickie is an employee of Bud’s. She was a stripper at his seedy night club, The Backseat. She did not have the means to support the baby. In exchange for an undisclosed sum of money, Vickie turned over her son to Bud Billings. When they got caught, Cindy, Bud and Vickie all got probation for adoption fraud. The judge allowed Bud and Cindy to keep little Justin and got Vickie to sign over all parental rights. Thus began the life of Justin Billings.
Some fact became blatantly clear.
- No one is looking into Bud’s criminal dealings.
- No one is looking into the two most likely suspects, Cab Tice and Hugh Wiggins.
- No one is questioning the family at all, even though Justin Billings says his father had a hit out on him based off of info he got from some man wrapped up in gangs in Colorado within hours of the murder. Let’s not forget that the van used in the murder is a van admittedly owned at some point by Bud and Blue Markham at Markham Auto Sales when they turned it over to Cab Tice, the only suspect everyone says is responsible for this criminal farce of a home invasion.
- The inconsistencies of the Sheriff’s press statements. He said initially this was a complex case but within a couple of weeks, he says it is a simple home invasion robbery that ended in murder.
This is all just stuff in the public domain. I've done no real investigation. This is just looking at the facts released to the media. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if Jimmy Hoffa ended up woven into this. This is all so sketchy. Patrick is right. He is being framed. That’s irony of this whole thing. Everyone knows of Patrick’s tenuous ethics and his big mouth, and that makes him the poster boy of scapegoats. Dear Lord, how am I going to get anyone to look at the case without looking at Patrick and his history? That is going to be the biggest challenge.
I couldn’t help but think about how wrong this whole thing was. The satirical investigation and adjudication seemed impossible, right? People don’t get railroaded by the police. The guys in the white hats always ride off into the sunset. Good guys get exonerated and bad guys go to jail. It is black or white; good or evil. This level of complexity seems like the rantings of Jim Garrison, the only man to bring charges for the assassination of President Kennedy. The convoluted connections woven into the fabric of Pensacola were eerily parallel.
This story was big. It is much bigger than I could ever conceptualize. This is something out the movies and to think the state’s theory that Patrick was the mastermind and the only one who fired on the Billings just didn’t seem logical or reasonable. It was such over kill. That many people to go after an elderly man. It was just not setting right with me. I wrote Patrick offering my help. I didn’t know what help I could actually be but I felt led by the gut feeling I had to look at this case. There had to be something I could do maybe try and get him an attorney worth a shit or I could give his attorney insight into the political “good ole boy” cronyism that is the infrastructure of the city of Pensacola.
I’m sure it is the same everywhere but in Pensacola, success is measured by your contacts. Everyone is connected to everyone else in some way. It is a place of openly explicit criminal activity that is whispered about among the masses. Half of the town thinks it is fiction but the other half knew the tales of organized crime are true. I suspected as much but I had no idea it was quite as bad as it really is. I am waist deep in political horseshit.
It has become evident to me I can no longer return to the place I think of so fondly as home, where my father is buried. Pensacola is looking at me with contempt. The feathers have been raised. Bows have been drawn. The only way to save Patrick and myself is to tell the story.
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
"If we believe that murder is wrong and not admissible in our society, then it has to be wrong for everyone, not just individuals but governments as well."
This story involves a number of people who play roles. Knowing the characters is pivotal to the telling of the story. All theories laid out in this book are purely subjective and are to be regarded as alternative theories of the crime. There are no accusations of guilt, merely speculation based on evidence. Every page from here forward is my perspective of a very real murder in my hometown. It is a story to be sure.
- Byrd "Bud" Billings was predatory used car salesman who dabbled in various illegalities. He and his wife adopted 17 disabled children over the years. He was the main victim of this murder.
- Melanie Billings was Bud's wife. She worked for Bud as a stripper prior to their marriage. She had 2 daughters she brought into this family, Ashey and Nikki who was a special needs child. She was a victim in this murder as well.
- Ashley Markham is Melanie's oldest daughter who is married to James "Blue" Markham. They ran Markham Auto Sales under Bud's ownership. She is the accountant of the business.
- James "Blue" Markham is Ashley's husband and Bud's right hand man. He played a substantial part in the day-to-day upkeep of the business as well as many of Bud's illegal endeavors.
- Justin Billings is the youngest son of Bud and Melanie Billings. He was adopted by Bud and his previous wife Cindy as a newborn. He stayed and lived with Bud and Melanie most of his life. As most kids his age, he is in a constant state of flux with his parents.
- Greg Clear is a friend of Justin Billings who shows up with him at the scene after the murders. .
- Cambre (Cambry) Lee was Justin's girl of interest at the time of the murders.
- April Spencer is the nurse who worked for the Billings' family. She is a caregiver and a nanny to the special needs and disabled children. She lives in a trailer on the Billings compound. She is but a minute or two away at all times.
- Henry "Cab" Tice is an embittered colleague of Bud's who owns Hispanic American Auto Sales.
- Sylvano Gonzalez was an employee of Cab's at Hispanic American Auto Sales. He was also connected to a Mexican cartel working out of Atlanta, Georgia.
- Jerry Wood also known as Mr. Mantis, was a man in the car dealership world who is believed to be using his position to launder money for illegal activities. Perhaps it is the same type of cartel with which Sylvano is involved. He is seen as the senior man within this group of men. The head of the horse.
- Hugh Wiggins also known as Brother One was an underling of Jerry Wood. He was his next in command in the alternative industry in Pensacola. To the world, he appears to work offshore and be a gun enthusiast, while the truth is murky as to what Hugh is truly doing.
- Pamela Long Wiggins is the second wife of Hugh Wiggins. Interestingly, they are both married to different people yet marry each other on December 31, 2008. Pam has properties, a yacht. She seems to be a woman of means that Hugh links up with for reasons that are not entirely clear. She also is the landlord to Leonard "Patrick" Gonzalez Jr. and his wife.
- Leonard "Patrick" Gonzalez Jr also known more commonly as Patrick Poff was a Gulf Breeze local who owned his own karate studio. He had been involved with karate throughout his life with his mother, and step-father. He spoke of being "connected" to the mob or being on the periphery of illegalities of the Pensacola car dealers, as he worked for a number of them. He was honored in 2009 (just a month prior to the murders) by the Sertoma Club as being a asset to the community for his stranger-danger campaign, Project Fightback which was a free program to empower women and children against assailants.
- Tabatha Gonzalez is Patrick's second wife and mother of his two sons, Little Patrick and Michael. She has four other children from a previous marriage that she brings to the marriage.
- Terri Clark Poff is Patrick Gonzalez's mother. She is married to Joe Poff. They raised Patrick and had a karate school when he was younger. Most of the people who know Patrick know him through this connection to the community.
- Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Sr. is Patrick's father who by all accounts was never a part of his son's life. He was in a car accident which left him with brain damage. He is never a full person after that. He, in fact, self-medicated to merely exist. He and Patrick established so sort of relationship in roughly 2005 as adults. There was no real father-son relationship. They both were trying to reconnect to a prominent man of Pensacola society who was dying, Lenny's father and Patrick's grandfather, Richard Gonzalez Sr.
- Wayne Coldiron was a day laborer. He was a friend and fellow self-medicator with Lenny. He was known to use methamphetamine, crack, as well as drink and engage in anything to make a buck which links him to Hugh Wiggins eventually through drugs.
- Gary Sumner was a business owner of an auto detail shop, Fifth Dimension, in Fort Walton Beach.
- Donnie Stallworth also known as Stalls was a good friend of Gary Sumner's who is in the Air Force. He was married with a family.
- Rakeem Florence was a young boy who hung around Fifth Dimension.
- Frederick Thornton another young man who was an older cousin of Rakeem Florence. He hung out at Fifth Dimension.
- William Richbourg was Gary Sumner's private attorney, whom he hired to defend him during his trial that ultimately never took place.
- Judge Nicholas Geeker was an Escambia County Circuit Court Judge who all intents and purposes, was retired at the time of the murders. Helping out here and. there by handling a few cases to ease the load on his fellow judiciary, he was not a judge on rotation in the Escambia County Circuit Court
These are the main people involved in the circumstances that surround the murder of Bud and Melanie Billings. While there are miscellaneous people who show up throughout this tale in minimal capacities, these are the players in the game and their connections to each other.
On a personal note, I must say there is still an immeasurable amount of danger still attached to this situation. After this comes out, the killer will be aware he might be exposed. Not by me directly but the limited possibilities of his identity. This is a great responsibility that could potential endanger me and people around me. So please understand this is real life stuff with real people in peril. If this could happen to Patrick, could it not happen to me or you?
"That blood which thou hast spill'd, should join you closely in an eternal bond.”
" The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is the duty of the living to do so for them."
Lois McMaster Bujold
This day was to go down in Pensacola history. A veil of darkness settled over the city, and the unthinkable had happened. A decent couple was murdered in their own home, but it is not that mere act of murder that is the most reprehensible thing that happened in this dreary town on that night. Far beyond those two deaths, this night destroyed no less than eight families. A ripple that was seen nation wide. Every person mentioned, even on the periphery of this tragedy, was forever altered. Children lost parents, parents lost children, spouses lost partners, and families lost legacies. To the peril of everyone however, the community had sold its soul.
To anyone who sees the actual facts of the case or has ever watched an episode of "Law & Order", this case diverged from any and all standard homcide investigation after about 24 hours into the case. It becomes drastically skewed and bizarre events happen and remain unaccounted for with little to no investigation. It's as if this is the proverbial "rabbit hole" of Alice in Wonderland. Lies become truth. Truth becomes fiction. Power becomes prominence. Justice becomes injustice. Heroes become villains. It is a magician's illusory dream come true. What is seen may not truly be seen at all.
July 9, 2009
Bud and Melanie Billings were sitting on the couch watching television on a balmy Florida summer Thursday afternoon. The house was quiet — an unusual event with nine foster kids. Melanie had been a waitress most of her adult life. She had to scrape and scrounge to feed her daughter Ashley, now twenty-two and her special needs daughter, Nikki who passed away roughly six months prior to this date. Melanie’s choices in her early life were quite different than the choices she made in her last years. She had been a stripper. Men would succumb to her girl next door persona. A poor, working, single mother. It is no wonder a man like Bud fell in love with her. She was the classic victim of a life of bad choices. Bud, on the other hand, was her hero who swooped in and rescued her from the constraints this life imposed on her. He owned the club Melanie worked at and he had money — more money than he knew what to do with. His career decisions never improved, moving from seedy strip club owner to used car dealer. Not one of the reputable ones either; he was the one who owned a sleazy “buy here-pay here” lot with predatory practices. His profits were at the plight of others, ripping people off for a living. Taking advantage of people in dire situations was his legitimate business model. A business which was most likely a front for laundering money, but more on that later.
Bud was also known by much of the questionable underbelly of the community. One of the king rats of the squalor, fleecing people of their small town, Pensacola - a big fish in a very small, dirty pond. Routinely lending people money in exchange for whatever little power or favors such marginalized people would have. Bud might have loaned a local mechanic (who, likely in dire straights, is reluctant but happy to accept) $10,000 for his business with the string attached that every time friends or family were sent to the mechanic, all of their repairs were free. Most certainly he would play those same friends and family by fixing their vehicles for free in return for their livelihood, debts, favors, and so on. According to Cab Tice this was also a way to lay a foundation for organized crimes. Rather than helping people, he owned them. Upstanding pillar of the community?...
So how do two such individuals end up with nine foster children? That is a great question. It was speculated that they misrepresented their lifestyles - as the criminally inclined often do. In the reflection of the looking glass, it appeared they were the perfect foster parents in a large home on a sprawling ranch on the outskirts of town. And it was heretical to question the character of anyone who lay on a slab in the county medical examiner’s office-- let alone these two idols. In reality sans the skewed perception, the truth is much more dispicable than that but that is not spun version of this case. It is said they were saints walking among the everyday damned. Wealthy and philanthropic they were - how dare anyone insinuate that they did anything that this Bible belt town would disapprove of. They embodied righteousness. I will be reminded of this over and over again.
This particular day was not special for the Billings. It was a lazy day at the house. The kids were in their rooms, the hired nanny, April Spencer, was in her trailer adjacent to the main house. She was under the weather and had retired to her little piece of the ranch to try to recuperate from her aching head. Normally she would be present in the house where the kids would dwell. On this hot Southern summer evening, Bud and Melanie were lounging after dinner on a typical Thursday night. This was their sanctuary. Since there was an extensive camera system throughout the compound with monitors in the study, we can imagine Bud in his recliner. We can imagine Melanie might have been on her laptop. After all, social media provides a wonderful medium for her to share her story of her devotion to her foster children to everyone that was within 6 degrees separation of their life in Pensacola. After she was done posting to her wall, she laid down with one of the kids.
Quietly, completely out of the blue, two men dressed in all black with guns, one a 9mm and another a long gun drawn, entered the unlocked back door. Three more men with long guns busted through the front door. The aggressive front man with a 9mm shouts at Bud and the couple is escorted to their bedroom closet. There is chaos and in less than 5 minutes, the couple was murdered in their own home. None of their children were harmed. The couple lay there bleeding, the second and third man ran to the closet and grabbed the safe and made their way out of the house. The child that was laying with Melanie was shoved to the side. Did the gunmen even see the child in the shadows? Either way the child was never hurt. The peculiar thing that jumped out at me was when the child was interviewed later about what his parents were doing when the men busted into the house. He said that his “Mommy was putting on her shirt. She was shot in the shirt.” Putting on a shirt? In bed with a child? This is really sounding more like something I do not want to acknowledge.
Here is how Rick Outzen, author and publisher of the Independent News in Pensacola, describes the initial news of the murders.
On early evening of Thursday, July 9, 2009, an old red van pulls onto the front yard of the large home owned by Byrd “Bud” and Melanie Billings. April Spencer, who helps Melanie take care of the nine disabled kids that lived in the home, had left the residence about 90 minutes earlier after helping Melanie bathe two of her daughters.
Bud Billings is watching TV and Melanie is getting dinner ready in the kitchen as Spencer walked out the door to her trailer on the Billings’ property.
Around 7:15 p.m. Adrianna Billings, age 11, pounds on Spencer’s door, yelling, “Come, Mom and Dad are dead.” Leaving the young girl at her home with her daughter, Spencer runs to Billings’ residence to find the laundry room door, which is on the southeast side of the house, kicked in.
Jacob “Jake” Billings, a 10-year-old with Down’s syndrome, is standing in the living room pointing to his parents’ bedroom. Jake can’t speak and communicates only through sign language.
Spencer walks into the master bedroom and finds Bud lying in front of the dresser, face down in pool of blood. He is dressed in blue jean shorts with no shirt. Melanie is lying, face up, in a hallway that leads out of the master bedroom towards a nearby study. Both have been shot multiple times. Spencer grabs Jake, runs to her trailer and called 911.
There is panic in her voice when Spencer calls. The Escambia County Sheriff’s 911 dispatcher does her best to calm the woman down:
Spencer (shouting): “The mom and dad, I live next door and the daughter came over and said the mother and father been shot and they’re dead……..”
Dispatcher: “She, She said they been shot?”
Dispatcher: “Hold on.”
Spencer: “I gotta go get the kids, there’s kids in the house.”
Dispatcher: Where’s she at?
Spencer: “They’re in the bedroom, ma’am, they’re dead…..Please come.”
Dispatcher: “Ma’am, I’m trying to get someone there, you said the mother and father both had been shot?”
Dispatcher: “Okay, I’m going to get someone there, I’m trying to get some information…..What is your name?”
Spencer: “This is……”
Dispatcher: “I’m sorry?–(To a patrol car). They’re supposed to be signal seven, both of them she is saying.–Ma’am what’s your last name? Ma’am, Ma’am, I’ll get somebody on the way, okay, they’re already on the way I’m just trying to get some information. What’s your first name?”
Spencer: “I gotta go find the kids, the kids are ……”
Dispatcher: “How old are the kids?……”
Spencer: “Ages from four years……”
Dispatcher: “How many kids are supposed to be in the house?”
Spencer: “Please help! Ma’am, I gotta go be with these children, but I don’t know…”
Dispatcher: “Ma’am, I don’t want you to be in any danger, okay?”
Spencer: “Ma’am, Ma’am I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Please come.”
Dispatcher: “Ma’am, Ma’am, I need you to take a deep breath for me, okay. You there? Hello?” (To her fellow dispatcher) “She hung up on me. She said she’s gonna go in and find the kids.”
Dispatcher: “Ma’am, You there?”
Dispatcher: “I thought you hung up. I didn’t know…… Okay, I’ve got several officers on the way to you.”
Dispatcher: “I need to know how many kids are supposed to be in the house?”
Spencer: “It’s nine children.”
Dispatcher: “It’s how many children? Ma’am your phone’s cutting out. Ma’am?”
While Spencer is calling 911, the Billings’ oldest daughter, Ashley Billings Markham, is doing the same. She had called the Billings home shortly after the intruders had left. Adrianna got on the phone, but Ashley couldn’t understand with the young girl was trying to tell so she tells Adrianna to run and get Spencer. Markham calls 911 and her brother, Justin Billings, who she asked to get to house and find out what is wrong.
Markham fights back tears as she makes her 911 call:
Dispatcher: “Sherriff’s 911, this is Jeff.”
Markham: “Hi, I need someone to go out to my parents’ house, I is on the phone with my sister and trying to get in touch with them and she said they are on the bathroom floor and there’s nobody there, um, she said they are dead and I don’t know what she is talking about.”
Dispatcher: “What’s the address? And what’s your name ma’am? And your phone number? And what’s her name?”
Markham: “Melanie and Bud Billings.”
Dispatcher: “And you said Billings?”
Markham: “Billings, B-i-l-l-i-n-g-s.”
Dispatcher: “Okay, and you said they’re down in the bathroom?”
Markham: “Yes, that’s what she said, I kept telling her to take her the phone, and she said I can’t, she’s on the floor and she’s dead. I didn’t know what she’s talking about and we have a neighbor and I tells her to over and get the neighbor….”
Dispatcher: “Can you hold on a second ma’am?”
Dispatcher- to a patrol car: “Three eighty. I’m on the phone with the other part. Ten-four. It’s gonna be a possible thirty two (dispatch code for shooting) victim. We have two callers on the phone. …The caller advised that her sister advised her that there are two subjects down on the bathroom floor, possibly Melanie and Bud, not twenty six (dispatch code for suspicious person) on what’s going on but are on the phone with another complainant.”
Markham: “Did somebody else call?”
Dispatcher—to a patrol car: Can you be enroute to back? Ten-four, car seventy twenty six? Ten- four.” (To Markham) “Okay. Ma’am.”
Markham: “Uh, huh.”
Markham: “Did somebody else call?”
Dispatcher: “Yes Ma’am, are on the phone with somebody else, hold on one second.”
DEPUTIES ARRIVE ON THE SCENE
The Escambia County Sheriff’s deputies arrive at the 9717 Mobile Highway residence at 7:26 p.m.–sixteen minutes after the red van had pulled off. Spencer meets the eight deputies and yells, “They’re in that house.”
The deputies find seven children still in their rooms, Nicholas (age 8), Ricky (9), Victoria (8), Emma (4), Ethan (5), Kaitlyn (7) and Matthew (9).
After the children are removed to Spencer’s trailer and the house is secured, Deputy Walter Johnson records in his offense report that he observed two bullet casings and two bullet holes on the floor in the hall on the first floor. There is a large amount of blood on the floor near the holes in the floor. When Johnson walks into the master bedroom, he sees the bodies of Bud and Melanie Billings. Their bodies are cool to the touch.
Crime Scene Technician Wayne Wright arrives on the scene about 25 minutes later. As he drives up the long driveway and past the wooded area that obscures any view of the Billings residence from the heavily traveled highway, Wright sees tire tracks in the front lawn.
In his report, Wright notes that he observed vehicle tracks that led from the driveway to an area just in front of the house. There is a set of spin out marks and tire tracks that looped back toward the driveway.
Wright describes the Billings house as a two-story predominately brick structure. Three entry doors to residence face the front lawn and driveway. The door on the northeast corner is unlocked and opens to a study room. That door didn’t appear to be damaged. The main front door, located near the center of the front of the house, appears to be forced open, as does the third door on the southeast end.
The crime scene technician enters the house through that third door. It leads into a short hallway with a laundry room on the right side. Small spots of blood are on the wall near the laundry room door. Turning right at the end of the hallway, he walks into the kitchen and living room areas. A motion sensor turns on the hallway light as Wright walks down the hall.
Wright sees the same shell casings that Thomas noted. The casings are later determined to be PPU 9 mm Luger shells. A trail of blood leads from the living room into the bedroom.
Just inside the master bedroom door, Wright finds Bud Billings lying face down with a large pool of blood under his head. He sees a bullet wound in his lower right leg. When Wright and M.E. Investigator Emily Mack roll over Billings’ body, they see a plastic zip tie wrapped loosely around his left wrist. Under Bud’s left leg is a framed photograph of Melanie’s daughter Nicole, who had died last year. Three shell casings are just right of Bud’s legs. Two are on the floor near his head. There are broken Mardi Gras beads on the floor near the door to the master bedroom.
Wright finds skull fragments on the floor in nearly a straight line about eight feet from Bud’s head. Blood splatter is on the wall right of the bedroom door, near Bud’s feet.
Melanie Billings is lying face up in hallway that leads from the master bedroom to the study room, where the unlocked entry door is on the northeast corner of the residence. On both sides of that hallway are large walk-in closets. A smaller closet is on the right side of the hall in the corner nearest the master bedroom.
That closet door is open and Melanie is lying directly in front of it. She is wearing a white Elton John T-shirt that is covered in blood and grey shorts. Her right Xhilaration sandal is off her foot and laying in the corner right of her body. Blood is on her chest and around her head. Skull fragments are a few feet about her head. One shell casing is on the floor between Melanie’s body and the open closet. Two more are found on the floor inside the closet.
All the shell casings found in the master bedroom are PPU 9 mm Luger brand and matched those found in the living room area. Spots of blood are observed on the carpet between the bodies of Bud and Melanie.
A few droplets of blood are found on a closet door to the left of staircase that is in the foyer between the front door and the living room. The rest of the residence appears unremarkable, according to Wright’s report.
Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan was all over the national news making multiple press statements. "This case had drugs, cartels, and guns involved." He himself called it a “humdinger” of a case. Then peculiarly he says that it is a simple home invasion murder with money being the motive.
How does it go from one to the other? Sheriff Morgan claims the ATF and DEA are not involved as a screen shot of DEA agents entering the house plays in the background. What the hell is going on? The sheriff was making contradictory statements almost in the same breath and none of it was making any sense. And Patrick shooting someone? Sure, I didn't like the guy but his big mouth is inconsistent with murder.
I watched every bit of news on the murders in my hometown of Pensacola. Byrd “Bud” Billings and his wife, Melanie. A group of masked “ninjas” as the press called them bombarded the Billings compound in the countryside between Alabama and Florida. It was supposed to be a home invasion robbery gone wrong, culminating in this couple being shot. Patrick was supposed to be the “mastermind” and the only one to fire shots.
One of the first things was to find out as much as I could about Pat’s legal options at this point. His direct appeal had just been denied after 2 years of deliberation. His attorney J. Raphael Ramirez--his state appointed attorney--was what anyone would expect. He did what he must— no more— no less. He filed his appeal on behalf of Pat and I must admit he did hit on several key points that needed to be noted. He also brought up various misdeeds throughout the trial. But when I watched his argument in front of the appellate court via the Internet, I saw how mediocre he really was. This panel of judges bullied him to no end. He was completely ineffective at answering any of the inflammatory questions posed to him. Pat was screwed.
Bud Billings was not the saint he was portrayed to be by the press. He had his hands in a number of illegal plots. All this is well documented in various law enforcement agency records. I began researching his life because I believe it is paramount as to his death. Some aspect of his life ultimately led to the shots fired that killed him as well as his wife.
In doing a primary, public records search, I find that there numerous court cases involving Bud. Bad debts, worthless checks, domestic violence and wait a minute—-adoption fraud? How does a man have 9 foster kids with a conviction of adoption fraud? This doesn’t make any sense. How can a government agency overlook that kind of past?
They are plain as day and it was an intricate scam over a baby. In 1990, a woman checked herself into the hospital in active labor. She claims to be Cindy Billings, Bud’s first wife. She bears a boy. Bud is listed as the baby’s father. He is named Justin. Through a series of insurance claims, it is revealed that this woman was not Cindy Billings but Vickie Lynn Taylor. This was an under-the-table adoption. Vickie is an employee of Bud’s. She was a stripper at his seedy night club, The Backseat. She did not have the means to support the baby. In exchange for an undisclosed sum of money, Vickie turned over her son to Bud Billings. When they got caught, Cindy, Bud and Vickie all got probation for adoption fraud. The judge allowed Bud and Cindy to keep little Justin and got Vickie to sign over all parental rights. Thus began the life of Justin Billings.
None of this info ever seems to be looked at by varying ranks of power who seemingly put on rose colored glasses a to this case. There is a list of things that are never "formally" investigated to any thoroughness. No one addresses the illegalities of Bud Billings. The two most obvious suspects, Henry "Cab" Tice and Hugh Wiggins walk away from this murder, seemingly unscathed. Justin Billings did not display any sign that he had been affected by the brutal moments of his parents. He talks of gangs in Colorado and paying to keep his girlfriend saved. James "Blue" Markham's account of selling the van used in the murder to Cab Tice months prior to the murder BEFORE anyone knows Leonard Gonzalez Sr.'s van. The report of that same van being abandoned in Alabama within hours of the crime, prior to the confiscation of Lenny's van four days after the murders never is investigated and seemingly disappeared into thin air. The inconsistencies of the Sheriff's press statements almost from the beginning just don't make sense. It is complex with several federal agencies involved from the inception. That changes into being a simple home invasion robbery.
This is all just stuff I found from one thousand miles away via the internet. It is in the public domain. I've done no real investigation. This is just looking at the facts released to the media. Nothing about this is logical, or rational. Everyone is acting so sketchy. This when I realized Patrick might be onto something. Maybe he is being framed. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if Jimmy Hoffa ended up woven into this.
Dear Lord, how am I going to get anyone to look at the case without looking at Patrick and his history? That is going to be the biggest challenge--Patrick's reputation in the community. He's known for being on the periphery of crime. He talks about connections to organized crimes. He is known for his bluster of importance and tenuously connected friends. He is a con man and big talker. Very little of what he says is believed. That’s irony of this whole thing. Everyone knows of Patrick’s lack of ethical behavior and his big mouth, and that makes him the poster boy of scapegoats. As I am reminded frequently, "Pat is and always has been a sociopath, a liar, a hustler, and a user and he deserves to be where he's at because of those qualities---EVEN IF HE DIDN'T KILL THOSE PEOPLE."
Funny how that works. No one sees that the injustice to one is an injustice to us all. If the world can be manipulated to have someone convicted of murder, sentenced to death without being involved in that crime, what chance is there for anyone's salvation? Everybody in this country has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What happens when the bottle spins around and points to you? Would you want to be judged about everything in your past without mercy or compassion? I sure as hell believe that we grow as a more civilized people and value every life. When humanity is measured in degrees with worthiness, we all fall short.
The nature of this set of homicides met the legal standards to impose the death penalty. The political powers that be in Pensacola were quick to jump on to that boat almost immediately. Ironic, since they didn't even have a clue how deep this ran when the talk began. According to the following statutes, the Death Penalty was on the table for the murders:
FLORIDA STATUTES 775.082 AND 921.141 - THE DEATH SENTENCE AND CAPITAL FELONIES
Florida Statute 775.082 permits a punishment of death for a person convicted of a capital felony in Florida. This statute also addresses what should happen in the event that the death penalty in a capital felony is held to be unconstitutional under the Florida Constitution or the United States Constitution. Interestingly, the Florida legislature maintains a distinction here between the determination of the unconstitutionality of the death penalty itself, and the determination of the unconstitutionality of a method of execution.
The sentence of death must be the result of a penalty phase proceeding carried out according to the procedures set forth in Florida Statute 921.141. The penalty phase proceeding is the second part of a two-part capital trial system in Florida. The first part, called the guilt phase proceeding, results in the jury verdict (i.e. guilty or not guilty) on the capital felony charge. If a person is found to be guilty of a capital felony, a penalty phase proceeding is subsequently conducted to determine the sentence - either life in prison or death. The same judge and jury panel is used for both the guilt phase and penalty phase proceedings. However, the verdict in the penalty phase differs in two important aspects. First, whereas the guilt phase verdict must be unanimous, a sentence of death only requires the recommendation of a majority of the jury.
In addition, the verdict rendered by the jury in the penalty phase proceeding is advisory - which means that the judge presiding over the penalty phase proceeding ultimately determines the sentence, and can "override" the jury's recommendation if he/she so determines. BUT - it is rare that a penalty phase judge enters a sentence which is different than the jury's recommendation. Both the penalty phase judge and jury are required by statute to base their sentencing determinations on the consideration of aggravating and mitigating circumstances. Sections (5) and (6) of Florida Statute 921.141 list the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, respectively, which the judge/jury is permitted to consider when determining the sentence. Section (7) of Florida Statute 921.141 allows the State to present victim impact evidence to the penalty phase jury.
THE FLORIDA CONSTITUTION AND THE DEATH PENALTY
Article I, Section 17 of the Florida Constitution authorizes the death penalty as a punishment for capital crimes, and permits any method of execution that is not prohibited by the United States Constitution. Section 17 further establishes that Florida shall construe the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment found in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constittuion in conformity with the decisions of the United States Supreme Court.
Article V, Section 3(b)(1) of the Florida Constitution gives the Florida Supreme Court the jurisdiction to hear appeals from final judgments of trial courts imposing the death penalty. However, pursuant to Florida Statute 921.141(4), in all cases in which the death penalty is imposed, the judgment of conviction and sentence of death shall be subject to automatic review by the Supreme Court of Florida and disposition rendered within two years after the filing of a notice of appeal.