A Day that Changed Pensacola History

Yesterday was the 8th anniversary of the most infamous murder in Pensacola history. Two citizens of Escambia County were ambushed on a quiet summer night inside their own home.  Seven people were arrested in break-neck time. The case was wrapped up with all the elements tucked into a nice narrative that made everyone feel as if they were safe again.

In the last few years, 2 of the people arrested for the crime died in jail of excruciating deaths; both literally wasting into nothingness. The “happily ever after” Ashley & Blue Markham, are embroiled in a low key divorce that was originating prior to the death of Ashley’s parents. The looming divorce was sidelined to make the facade of a loving family play better in the media–local and national.

The theater at each and every trial, as well as each of the 2 compassionate release hearings were full of drama from the ever sobbing Ashley Markham and her doting husband, Blue.

As for the main face in the media for this crime, David Morgan has proven himself to be an absolute buffoon and more worthy of Barney Fife’s one bullet than a sheriff’s star.  Morgan has turned Escambia County into a joke on a national scale, with proclamations of witches killing citizens, the youth of the community being  “Super-Predators”, likening his “Welsh-ness” to “Black-ness”, and even that the motive of the murder of a child on his watch was “not his concern”. Most recently, after being completely worked around in a multi-agency murder case, he declared in a press conference a nonsensical assertion about the rate of “solved” cases in the area. With all the buffoonery that has come since this case, looking back, doesn’t the pattern of forcing a scenario despite the facts, fit?

To anyone who has any knowledge of criminal justice, law enforcement or even people who have watched a cop show, David Morgan makes every person trying to make the county a better place, look like some sort of “Jackass” version of policing, because he is supposed to be their leader, not their mascot.

In the Billings case, someone on the inside took the easy way out by going after the “robbery” angle rather than the most legitimate answer being, Billings was killed for some interaction in his business, illegal business. When you play with cartels and then are murdered, should anyone be shocked?  The fact this case was investigated excluding the theory that business associates of either his previous strip club affiliation, or crossed colleagues and/or ripped off clients from his “Buy Here, Pay Here” lot.  Even the most traditional motive, greed of someone looking to inherit was NEVER INVESTIGATED.

Veteran law enforcement from ECSO and outside agencies have come forward to say that they knew this case was improperly handled from seeing it handled from a perspective different than that of the average citizen. The magnitude of the case (multiple agency involvement, number of suspects & people of interest) was such that there was no scenario, even with confessions, that could have been adequately investigated to rule out other theories and suspects of this heinous murder. A narrative was formed that was clean and fit the public relations option the agency took in keeping Bud Billings’s  life  “clean” when it was far from that.  Seven people with sketchy, questionable or who were black, were arrested, bullied into confessions to stay off that pesky death sentence needle. None of the stories match up and so many loose ends, simply dropped while national media watching, some of which are criminal justice experts were fawning over Morgan for his stellar performance as a new Sheriff in a complex double murder. He took that praise and spun it to his own political gain.

Ashley & Blue got the bulk of their parents’ estate, cutting out siblings like Justin and Kristen. They also took over the disabled kid cash grab with the number of kids ( roughly $3000 a month per child in state assistance), along with the predatory car lot. To top it all off, Ashley got Oprah’s sympathy as well as the infamous “hug” by Sheriff Morgan.

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Unfortunately, the justice in the Billings case will be reserved for now, but this is temporary. The truth is still out there with no statute of limitations on murder (Thank God).  As long as I have breath, David Morgan is my focus. His downfall is my goal, not by making “salacious” posts, but for unveiling this charlatan for what he is–Barney Fife with one bullet. He has effectively run the ECSO into a place of ruin that many cops say will take YEARS to remedy.

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Billings Murder: VICTIMOLOGY

When a person is murdered, standard procedure is to do a victimology profile.  That includes understanding why victims were targets, what motivations were most likely, what was going on in their lives the day they were murdered. Another relevant factor is,  why were they killed there? Why was this location chosen?  The obvious answers would be.

a.) that is where things of value were to be taken

b.) to send a message that no one is safe even in their home

c.) opportunity

d.) controlled environment.

Opportunity is ruled out because this wasn’t a spontaneous crime.

Also, why was THIS method and tHIS mode of murder used?  why so many guns? why the manpower?

a.) guns used for assured kill

b.) manpower of that magnitude needed for crime

  1. elderly man and wife in environment not fortified  seems overkill
  2. number of assailants increases likelihood of capture due to increased chance of DNA, hair etc.
  3. number of assailants increases likelihood someone will  tell someone else who will snitch
  4. number of assailants that were not loyal to one another due to short or non-existent relationships increases likelihood of capture for self-preservation–to reduce pressure on themselves if caught
  5. not insuring camera system was off-careless.  number of men could have ensured that camera was not an issue

No real need to have 5 men enter to subdue elderly man and woman who were not armed and not suspecting anything. Couldn’t one, maybe two men have entered–zip-tied them for the remaining to come in carry safe. That way if something went wrong, only the 1st two would be inside the residence. Again, for a planned, military style approach, strangers with no real bonds to each other wouldn’t have been used. Extra measures would have ensured video cameras were taken care of. By the way, if this was a robbery, why not knock Byrd off leaving or coming in a car? He’d have the money with him and be an easier target. Also why leave the briefcase behind if there was that much money in it. They walked right passed it, supposedly with the knowledge of its contents.

Forget all the confessions. They only muddle the facts and contradict the evidence. No one tells a story that fits the physical evidence or the known concrete facts of how the murder went down. There are variations that cannot be squared. Who was where, for example?  Who drove? What happened after? Not one of the 4 people who talked have a story that is consistent with each other or the crime scene evidence. So disregard those entirely and focus on just what can be seen, smelled, or touched.

The family had the most to gain. The family was never properly investigated. The son had gunshot residue. It’s Ockham’s razor. “A principle from philosophy. Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence. In this case, the simpler one is usually better. Another way of saying it is that the more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely an explanation is.” (Source: Wikipedia)

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No matter what you believe happened in this case, the one thing that cannot be disputed is that this case was not properly investigated. That begs the question of why? Why not rule out all the possibilities before taking the case to trial or settling into one theory that is outside the logical flow of everything known about how and why murders happen?

Next step: Look at anomalies in investigation. What happened that shouldn’t have happened? What didn’t happen?

 

The Implication of Sheriff Morgan’s Over-generalization & Colossal Rush to Judgement

Conjuring Justice

As I have been saying for 3 years, Sheriff Morgan is no criminal investigator. He develops a theory and with tunnel vision. To the exclusion of actual facts and evidence, he plumps up his cheeks and gets in front of the media and touts his own truth. This is what happened in the recent triple murder of the Smith Family. He claims, “this is witchcraft”. Thankfully the public knew enough not to believe it. That has not always been the case.

On July 27, 2009, Morgan staged one of many national press conferences and with all the drama he could muster, he told Ashley Markham, “We found them (the people who killed your parents)”. He hugged the sobbing woman, resting his head upon hers in an embrace, of course, at an angle so that there is good exposure to publicity shots.

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This very act should have been the first red…

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EXCLUSIVE: Behind The Scenes Of The Billings Case With Sheriff David Morgan

July 27, 2009

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It was a chance meeting in the lobby of the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department on July 10, the day after the murder of Byrd and Melanie Billings, that Sheriff David Morgan won’t forgot.

He does not use the lobby of the building often; on that day he just happened to be there when Ashley Markham, the Billings’ daughter, was being led inside to talk to investigators.

NorthEscambia.com sat down with Sheriff David Morgan Friday afternoon at his office for an exclusive interview to learn more about what the days since the Billings murders have been like for him personally.

Humdinger. Twinkies. Beanie Babies and Bubblegum

The sheriff that was such a commanding presence with terms like “humdinger,” “beanie babies and bubblegum” on the national television networks, Larry King, Anderson Cooper, Good Morning America — the list just goes on and on — was at a loss for words meeting Ashely Markham in his department’s lobby.

“You just feel so helpless,” Morgan told NorthEscambia.com in an exclusive interview. “There’s really not a lot you can say that can ease the pain, the mourning…the grieving.”

“I did not really know what to say to her,” he said, “other than to say ‘is there anything I can do?’.”

“Find the people that did this,” Morgan said Ashely Markham replied.

Four days later, on July 14, Ashley Markham was at the sheriff’s department for a press conference. She knew that Morgan was about to announce some good news, but that’s all she knew.

morganashleymarkham.jpgThe next time Morgan and Markham would see each other, they were on every major television network in the country and many others around the world. She stood by Morgan’s side with her husband Blue, unaware of what the sheriff was about to say.

At the press conference Morgan recounted that lobby meeting, as tears built in Markham’s eyes.

“We have found them, and they are in custody,”  Morgan said at that press conference. The sheriff hugged and comforted her, then turned back to his press conference. She put her face into her hands and cried as he announced that seven people were in custody for the murder of her parents.

“That press conference was for them, not for anybody else,” Morgan told NorthEscambia.com.

The Phone Call

It was a short time after the initial deputies were called to the Billings’ home in Beulah. Morgan was at home with his wife Susan; they had just finished dinner. It would be the last ordinary dinner the first term sheriff and his wife would enjoy together for weeks.

The phone rang. Morgan was told about the murders, and about the large number of children in the home.

“My first reaction was to drive out there, because of all of the children,” he said. “It tugs at your heart. But we had a lot of capable, competent people from the sheriff’s department out there. The best thing I could do was ask them what they needed from me and let them do their jobs.”

The Longest Days

morgan30.jpgSince the murder, the sheriff said he’s been working many 17-18 hour days, but is quick to point out that many of his investigators have pulled longer hours. In fact, he said he’s left his office many times at 1:30 to 3 a.m., his investigators still at work from the day before. The overnights were often spent doing regular sheriff’s department business, like the folder called the “Sheriff’s Signature” folder full of papers that he had to sign daily. He was running on as little as two hours sleep when he would arrive back at the department’s administration building as early as 4 a.m. to do the morning shows like Good Morning America and the Today Show.

“I would walk the circuit of satellite trucks,” he said, “ABC first then all the way down the line to CNN and MSNBC. It was grueling.”

International News

morganpress.jpg“I was oblivious to all that,” he said of the worldwide television coverage of the press conferences he was doing in the days early after the murders. “We were just soldiering on.”

In the beginning, he thought the press conferences were being carried just locally, and he was doing them to update the local community on the case and reassure our area that they were safe — even though killers were on the loose.

“It was my job. It really wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “I’m ultimately responsible, and I felt as sheriff a horrendous need to reassure the community.”

He said working with all of the media, with perhaps the rare exception of a tabloid or two, was pleasurable — and effective.

Thanks to the media, the community’s eyes were on the lookout for that red van believed to have been used in the crimes.

“If I lived another 100 years, I would probably never see that again,” he said of the media’s cooperation during the Billings case. “We agreed on this one thing — capture these folks.”

The Feds

Some of the media swirled with rumors that several federal agencies had become involved in the case for one reason or another.

morgan20.jpgMorgan said that he did turn to outside agencies to assist in the investigation, in the interest of time. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the FBI provided assistance early. From crime lab to ballistics testings, it was all about fast turn around, he said. The FBI provided help with fingerprint analysis and video enhancement. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) provided lab testing.

The outside agency services were all things that the Escambia Sheriff’s Department can do in their modern facilities. But with the number of suspects and the large number of items to be processed from the crime scene, Morgan felt early that using those outside agencies would serve them well to get results as fast as possible. He was right.

“It was my job as sheriff to ensure that the process moved along,” he said.

Steal The Moments

The sheriff’s wife Susan attended at least two of the press conferences, rare moments where she was able to see her husband over the past weeks.

“We’ve just had to steal the moments that we can,” the sheriff said.  “There’s been no schedule for sleep or meals. There’s been no quality time, no anytime for us.” They did steal time for dinner together one night — at midnight.

morgan10.jpgSusan has, like any good wife, been his biggest critic. “You speak too fast, looked the wrong way, stop it with all the metaphors; she’s been very supportive.”

Morgan had hoped to get home early this past Friday afternoon so the couple could have dinner together. Our NorthEscambia.com exclusive interview was to be his only interview for the afternoon at 1:30 Friday, but it was bumped to 2:30 so he could meet with the State Attorney’s office on late breaking developments in the case. We noticed him steal a few glances from behind his desk at the clock on the wall by about 3:30.

But when he was done with our interview, it was not going to be time to go home. People Magazine had called and left a message with his secretary while we had waited to go in and see him. They were still waiting for a callback.

We learned at the end of our interview that another person of interest in the case was in the building, and the sheriff was to meet with his investigators as soon as our interview was done.

Dinner would have to wait.

Credit Where Credit Was Due

Morgan frequently credited his investigators, officers and support staff during our interview for their help in the Billings case. But there’s more.

“I prayed to God everyday that He would give us the ability to do our best because so many people depend on us everyday to stay the course and make the right decisions,” Morgan said. “I prayed that God would be good enough to give me the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job.”

In the Old Testament, Job was a God-fearing man that suffers great trial after great trial that leave him without his belongings, his children or his health. Despite the great trials, he remains patient and faithful to God and is finally rewarded by the Lord. Solomon was the wise king of Israel that had to decide to which of two mothers a child belonged. So he ordered a sword to cut the child in half, knowing that the real mother would be willing to give her child up rather than see it die.

“The credit (for the work in the case) needs to be spread around, and it needs to go to Him.”

photos courtesy WEAR TV 3, click to enlarge.

Comments

20 Responses to “EXCLUSIVE: Behind The Scenes Of The Billings Case With Sheriff David Morgan”

  1. an observer on July 30th, 2009 10:55 am

    I still would like to know how this Pam Wiggins knew about the safe in the house AND it’s contents…was she planning on marrying this man to make Number 4????

  2. judy on July 29th, 2009 8:48 pm

    i have to say, ive lived in this area (walnut hill) for 11-12 yrs….i dont recall this much interaction, information or community outreach from the sheriffs office in the past…very encouraging, to say the least…..when i voted for a sheriff in this last election, i didnt really know either one of the candidates…altho, i did meet mrs morgan (lovely lady)..but, i voted using my best objective common sense….sheriff morgans education is really what tipped the scale for me….and, so far, im very pleased w/my choice….i know that NORTHESCAMBIA.COM has been quite instrumental in keeping us all in the loop, as well…i love this news outlet and william is definately on the ball…

  3. local girl on July 28th, 2009 10:52 am

    Good job Sheriff Morgan. We all want these people put in jail for what they did. I must be hard to get only sometimes get 2 hours of sleep each night. Thank you for your hard work and dedication. Good luck and God Bless you all.

  4. William on July 28th, 2009 9:38 am

    “G” — The sheriff and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department are not even investigating the Atmore Police shooting in Walnut Hill. They can’t; they have no legal right. It is handled by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement:

    http://www.northescambia.com/?p=9705

  5. G on July 28th, 2009 9:34 am

    I am tired of all the “ye-haw” about this man. He has done nothing but get on the cameras and try furthering his career. All the people involved told on each other. No big investigation tactics.
    I guess if they had some one doing a lot of telling, they could solve the case on the young man shot by atmore police. If you put in half the effort on his case that you have the Billings, we would already know the real story of why he was killed.
    But I guess non of those cops are willilng to tattle on each other like the Billings killers.

  6. Bill on July 28th, 2009 7:52 am

    Now that you (citizens) have seen what can be done by an outsider to change our communitiy for the better, will you have the courage and forsight to vote some of these other “Local Bubbas” out of office so that other areas of the community may prosper?

    It is time to stop voting for the good ol’ boy or girl just because of local ties and political party affiliation. Our area needs fresh eyes with fresh ideas.

    Thank you Sheriff Morgan for a job well done and for demonstrating to the community that “the way it has always been” is not always the right way.

  7. Jack Moran on July 27th, 2009 5:49 pm

    We see in Sheriff Morgan a true Noble-man; educated, competent, God fearing and God-glorifying. A person of CHARACTER, COURAGE, honesty, and Integrity who has raised the bar with which we measure all elected and public officials by. May God continue to Bless and Prosper his house. May we as voters and citizens learn from his example.

  8. bellsheadboy on July 27th, 2009 3:16 pm

    Thank you Sheriff Morgan for putting a competent professional face on our community.We have been represented as a hick backwater for too long.Thanks for changing that image in the minds of millions of people around the country.Good luck in all your endeavours and God Bless you and your family.

  9. Locally Happly on July 27th, 2009 2:04 pm

    I’ve been pleased with what I have seen from the sheriff’ sdepartment since morgan took over as de sheriff in town. We never saw Ronnie Mac up here. But we see Morgan himself, we see the deputies, we see the Walnut Hill precinct open again, we see the bike patrols, and we see NorthEscambia.com publishing the stories about the people that are busted. Voters done good!

  10. Bogia Guy on July 27th, 2009 2:01 pm

    We have elected a true leader.

  11. Al on July 27th, 2009 1:41 pm

    Kudos where kudos are due….. and an extra shout out for the public official admitting to desperate, helpless prayer – calling on the only One who could really comfort him at that time.

  12. Bratt Homeowner on July 27th, 2009 11:33 am

    Great job sheriff. We really appreciate all that you do down there and all that you have done and will do in the north end. I can’t image the past two weeks if Ronnie Mac had been in charge. We are blessed to have you in office.

  13. Cantonment Resident on July 27th, 2009 11:31 am

    This was very insightful. We all watched the man on the TV 6 am to 10 pm and I never really thought about the hours he put into informing the public and still running the investigation and the regular sheriff’s department stuff. Kudos for the article and kudos to Mr. Morgan.

  14. Mac on July 27th, 2009 10:38 am

    What a great article about a sheriff who has done an exemplary job under tremendous pressure. A special thanks to North Escambia for such a great interview.

  15. Lynn on July 27th, 2009 8:56 am

    As always, William, you did a great job!!

    I live in Escambia County, AL, not Florida, but I’ve been so impressed with Sheriff Morgan’s professional abilities displayed in this horrible situation. I was already impressed with his decision to bring more law enforcement to the north end of the county, which has been needed for so long! But no matter how much help he received from outside agencies, there still has to be someone coordinating the information and keeping the whole operation under control and organized. I don’t know of anyone who could’ve done a better job than Sheriff Morgan. If I lived in Escambia County, FL, I’d be worried that another county or state would try to hire him away. . . .and that would be a horrible loss for your county.

  16. Suzanne on July 27th, 2009 8:30 am

    What else can I say………..Great Job.

  17. Dan on July 27th, 2009 8:10 am

    I supported David Morgan and helped with his campaign
    for Sheriff. His performance has exceeded every expectation
    I had.

    He’s doing an outstanding job !!!!!

  18. THE DOER on July 27th, 2009 7:43 am

    Wow. I am so glad we have an official who speaks out and is not afraid of giving credit to our Heavenly Father. Thank you, Sheriff Morgan! Thank you for your stance, your resolve and your belief in a higher power!

  19. Molino Mom on July 27th, 2009 7:36 am

    I thought the PNJ reported last week that he was not doing interviews for awhile. Maybe he’s just not doing interviews with them. Good job northescambia.com. It was nice to see a side of the man we have seen so much on the tv.

  20. Lawson on July 27th, 2009 4:54 am

    I think I like our Sheriff. (and his wife Susan)

What Really Happened After the Billings Murders? The Untold Story

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Throughout the years since these horrific murders in Pensacola, thousands of documents, articles, interviews and depositions have been released to the public, but none of them encompass the truth revealed by the facts of the case. Surprisingly, all the exculpatory evidence as to the identity of the 5 men that bombarded the Billings’ compound on that July night, has never been covered in the media.

Sheriff David Morgan, contrary to all guidelines of criminal investigations, dumped boat loads of information about the case into the public domain before the investigation had evaluated such data or even vetted it for truth. This immediately spun into storm of chaos and confusion within the Sheriff’s office, within the investigation and naturally within the media. The most astonishing thing is that there is a statement of an investigator, who is currently in Internal Affairs, that a narrative of what happened to the Billings’ that fateful night was released to the national media with a complete background on 8 people. This was prior to the actual information received by the investigators working on the case or had been established as leads. The narrative released to the press was from the Sheriff’s office and included booking photos and driver’s license photos of people. How could the Sheriff’s office work up a narrative and press package with pictures when the actual investigators had not heard the names of the people being sold to the public as the killers?

Another fun fact is that the beat up red van in the video was found at a weigh station in Alabama, which is consistent with the escape route that deputies theorized. Until someone comes forward to say that van may have been his van. James Hartsfield is concerned his old van sold to Terri Poff was the van in the video. So as deputies follow up that lead and track the van in question to Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Sr’s home on Palm Court. But “surprise”, there sits another van. One van at the weigh station and now one in the yard of Gonzalez Sr. They are similar vans but there are distinct differences in mirrors and doors. What happens next? Gonzalez Sr’s van is taken into custody because he is acting weird. The weigh station van disappears. Baldwin County deputies who reported the abandoned vehicle say it was never impounded by them. It was assumed Escambia County would take care of it, but in the meantime, the van disappears from the weigh station. “Poof”. No more second van.

Now all this is known to everyone surrounding the investigation within 72 hours of the murder. Yet no one reported any of these things. Rick Outzen, his own words in telephonic interview was on the scene at the Billings’ house, has not reported any of this to the public. He even recalls Ashley Markham screaming in the driveway of the Billings home that night that “He did this” pointing to her brother, Justin Billings, who later tested positive for gunshot residue on his hands and no emotion while talking to deputies moments after the horrific murder of his parents. How does a second van and complete backstory of a crime get past the fact checkers at the Sheriff’s Office? Well, that brings up another point. According to a sworn deposition by Chris Baggett, a deputy involved in the investigation, there was no true head of the investigation. There are at least 6 investigators who are not briefing each other on their own knowledge of the crime while they are each working different angles. There is no logging of who interviewed who and when. There were many interviews with Bill Eddins (State Attorney) and ECSO officials with suspects that were improper because an attorney was requested and that request was ignored as well as numerous interviews that are never recorded. When asked if anyone was in charge of making sure all the statements of the people being interviewed was recorded, there is an answer of “No” by more than one deputy. People were walking in and out of interviews. Chris Baggett had info on the van but he did not have time to brief Lee Tyree who was talking to the suspects. So he didn’t have Tyree’s knowledge from the interview and Tyree didn’t have his knowledge of the van.

With all this chaos, a story suddenly emerges to the national news of what happened. How is that possible when there was so much disorganization? There are pictures of people who aren’t even known to the investigators on television with a story outlining their roles. What kind of Sheriff’s department is running this town?

So many missteps that it would make OJ Simpson’s case look more credible than this. No reporting of facts. Leaking stories that cannot be corroborated. Not even knowing which deputy, official or random citizen had been allowed to talk to the suspects. No honoring of the invocation of counsel. No REPORTING OF THE MADNESS THAT WAS THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE. Yet David Morgan looks nice in his press conference, but the paperwork that was on his desk did not support a word he spoke within the first 5 days of the case. Anybody with a conscience on the fringe of this could see this was a dog and pony show. Yet no one had the guts to say anything against the Sheriff. Deputies were understandably wary of ratting out their boss but what about the media? What about Mr. Outzen? He had all these facts. He even told Damien Cave of the New York Times on August 19th, 2009, he was committed to finding out what happened in this case. The article titled, “Blogger Stirs a City by Suggesting That a Florida Couple’s Murder Was a Contract Killing”, touts Outzen integrity in journalism and his family legacy of fighting against political wrongs done in the civil rights era. Yet he chose to not address a single discrepancy mentioned above to people of Escambia County.

Why is that?