I absolutely love this brief (parts of it anyway)…The first 29 pages are just the noise of the case. It is the “he said-he said” chaos that is wholly inadmissible when dealing with co-conspirators when it cannot be independently corroborated by other evidence, which doesn’t include other co-conspirator testimony. (2 or 30 co-conspirators does not evidence make without tangible evidence of guilt)
The basis of this appeal is simply these 2 issues :
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.
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.
So in the long line of people who cashed in, exploited and turned a blind eye in the Billings case, I want to welcome Bill Richbourg to the cast of characters who should be on the other side of the bars that they put their clients in. Mr. Richbourg could arguably be the most deplorable of the attorneys who rolled over and played dead in this case. Mr. Richbourg was hired by Gary Sumner to represent him. He paid Mr. Richbourg. For 6 weeks seemingly, work was done to further the defense case for Sumner. But on April 25, 2011, the day set for the jury selection, Mr. Richbourg tells Sumner (as they approach the courtroom) that he could not win this case, Sumner had no option but to take a plea. Richbourg strong-armed a disadvantaged young black man. Then the state had the gall to sue Sumner for the time they wasted for trial.
But the best part here is that Richbourg had an agenda from the onset of representing Sumner. He represented Bud Billings in the adoption fraud suit that somehow left the “stolen” child with the captor. Richbourg organized that circa 1989-90.
Can you say CONFLICT???? Representing a man that killed a past client and then tanking the representation? Cheryl Barnes, Gary Sumner’s mother, should be suing this man on Gary’s behalf. Not only unethical, but it rises to level of criminal when he forced Gary into signing away his life rather than actually representing him. Any civil rights lawyers out there should be on top of this.
But the people who failed to do their job in this case is so numerous. Richbourg is just ONE of the highly respected attorneys who dropped the ball.
Tony Henderson forced Lenny Gonzalez into his plea and signed off on the man’s legal mental competence, despite the SSI ruling that states the man has brain damage, dementia, and numerous mental health issues. Also his VAN WAS INOPERABLE. That was a defense within itself, but Henderson managed to negotiate Lenny’s fate which led to his death. Shouldn’t that be beyond malpractice as well?
What about the public defenders who handled Florence & Thornton? There was a huge case for coerced confessions but they never represented their clients. They took the money the state paid them and walked those boys into prison. Now their lives are cast in stone. Statistics say that uneducated black men imprisoned early (18-25) build “criminal capital”. They turn prison into a community that they are comfortable with, can network in, to feel a sense of inclusion into SOMETHING. It is the same psycho-social phenomenon that draws people into gangs. That is on Joel M. Cohen (Florence’s public defender), & Cheryl Alverson (Thornton’s public defender).
Richbourg has a great deal of company in his criminality. I hope to see them punished just like Eddins, Geeker & Sir David.
Transcript of Bill Eddins speaking at the Rotary Club on Sept 17, 2013
….They located the owner of the red van as a result of that being publicized or where the red van was. It was Leonard Gonzalez Sr. On Sunday, he was brought in, July 12th, he was brought in to the Sheriff’s office to be questioned and we expected that..we had developed enough evidence to charge him with accessory after the fact. We expected that is what he would be charged with. We developed evidence that he had tried to put on some paint, he started painting and had it hid behind his house. I decided to contact the Sheriff’s office and I went down to the Sheriff’s office and determined while he was talking to them he was not being honest. He was BS’ing them were the words I used. Paraphrasing. I asked the Sheriff if he thought it might be helpful if I spoke with him. He decided it would do no harm. I decided I would speak with him. So I did and indicated to him who I was and that I was the State Atty and that my office would be prosecuting these cases. And that we knew there were a large number of people involved based on what we’d seen on video tapes and we knew sooner or later some of them would talk and confess and tell on everybody else. I knew he wasn’t being truthful. I wasn’t gonna be there but 5 more minutes and our office decided whether-who we will seek the death penalty against. And I found in matters of this nature that it is always better to tell the truth. The train is leaving the station and if you want to get on it all you got to do is tell the truth. He started BS’ing me (I’m paraphrasing). I told him I was leaving and I walked outside. I told the Sheriff and the Sheriff and I discussed it. Sheriff Morgan and I agreed we could arrest him for accessory after the fact anyway since he obviously wasn’t gonna talk. A high bond was placed on him and we went back and told the investigators what we had done. One of the senior investigators got very upset and said “now you ruined it, we will never solve this case. This man is not gonna talk. WE could have got him to talk and here you go ruining it”. Just as he said that, a knock at the door came and the man said Mr. Gonzalez wants to know if you would possibly come back and speak to him again. So I did. I expected him to confess. He was an older man who lived a hard life and I expected him to tell me about being accessory after the fact, but when I sat down and gave him his rights, he let out the whole story. …from there we were able to round up the rest of the people. Some of them confessed; some didn’t
If this “confession” lead to the other arrests, wouldn’t it be ironic if this confession proved to be fruit from the poison tree? The poison tree being this inadmissable confession.
People with mental disabilities have often falsely confessed because they are tempted to accommodate and agree with authority figures. Further, many law enforcement interrogators are not given any special training on questioning suspects with mental disabilities. An impaired mental state due to mental illness, drugs or alcohol may also elicit false admissions of guilt.
Above is the Social Security Determination that establishes Leonard Gonzalez Sr. as suffering from dementia, concentration problems, memory impairment, and paranoid personality disorder, “Having marked difficulty in maintaining social function and deterioration of adaptive behavior”.
“After careful consideration of the full record” an Administrative Law Judge declared Mr. Gonzalez Sr. totally disabled under the standards defined by the SSA due to organic brain injury and mental impairment resulting from that injury. Gainful employment for any sustained period is unforseeable. Dementia and memory impairment are acknowledged and documented.
Being in Mr. Gonzalez Sr.’s presence, NO ONE can have the sense that he wasn’t mentally impaired. It is reported by family that on the day in question, that he was arrested, Mr. Gonzalez Sr. had been up for 3 days, smoking crack. Again making him far from sound mind and less apt to cover the deficiency he had psychologically and mentally, yet, Mr. Eddins took a confession of this man which led to 7 more arrests.
This confession is tainted by the knowledge of this man’s incapacity. All info stemming from this “confession” should have been inadmissable and this may have saved Mr. Gonzalez Sr.’s life as well as Pamela Wiggins.
July 27, 2009
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.
The 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
Since 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.”
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.”
Some of the media swirled with rumors that several federal agencies had become involved in the case for one reason or another.
Morgan 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.
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.
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?