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Not guilty pleas for men charged in Florida couple's murders

  • Story Highlights
  • Seven men are charged with murder of couple who adopted special-needs children
  • Trial dates set for October and November, court clerk says
  • Couple was shot to death at home on July 9; safe stolen
  • Woman charged as accessory has bond hearing set for Monday
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(CNN) -- The seven men charged in the deaths last month of a Beulah, Florida, couple known for adopting special-needs children pleaded not guilty Thursday, a court clerk said.

Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 35, is one of seven people charged with murder in the July 9 killings.

Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 35, is one of seven people charged with murder in the July 9 killings.

The court set trial dates for late October and November, though those dates may change, the Escambia County court clerk said.

Each man was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of home-invasion robbery in connection with the July 9 killings of Byrd and Melanie Billings, the office of State Attorney Bill Eddins said this week.

The suspects are Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 35; Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Sr., 56; Wayne Thomas Coldiron, 41; Gary Lamont Sumner, 30; Fredrick Lee Thornton, 19; Donald Ray Stallworth, 28; and Rakeem Chavez Florence, 16, who was charged as an adult, authorities said. All seven are being held without bond.

Police have described the younger Gonzalez as the organizer of the crime. Two of the suspects claim he was the lone shooter, according to court documents.

An eighth suspect, Pamela Wiggins, was charged with being an accessory after the fact, though she was not included in the indictment returned by the Escambia County grand jury this week. Police said they found a safe belonging to the Billingses in Wiggins' back yard.

Wiggins was absent from court Thursday and a bond hearing was scheduled for Monday in her case, the court clerk said.

Meanwhile, an attorney representing the Billings family filed an emergency motion asking the court to bar public disclosure of photo and video evidence in the case, including surveillance video from the Billings home at the time of the slayings. The evidence was set to be released on Friday.

Attorney Robert Beasley said Thursday the video depicts the crime, but he wasn't sure if the slayings themselves were on the video. However, both the Billingses and a child are seen in various scenes of the video, and the child witnessed most of the murder, Beasley said.

Court documents have said the Billingses were found in the master bedroom. Beasley said he was not sure if there was a surveillance camera in the bedroom.

Investigators were working with him to bar the release, Beasley said, but decided it would be against the rules without a court order. He said at least one media outlet is opposing the motion. A hearing was under way on the motion late Thursday afternoon, he said.

Relatives of the slain couple this week confirmed previous reports that another safe containing more than $100,000 was in the home at the time of the killings.

The first safe, containing prescription medications, family documents and some jewelry, was taken from the Billingses' home when they were shot, authorities have said. That was the safe found later in Wiggins' yard, according to police.

The Billings family said the second safe contained $164,000 in cash, antique jewelry and assorted legal documents. The money was a reserve for Byrd Billings' financing business, the family said.

Prosecutors believe there were two motives in the killings -- robbery and a contracted hit, a source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN last month. The source said the state attorney's office was working under the belief that most of the suspects in the case were told only that they were robbing the Billingses, but that Leonard Gonzalez Jr. and other yet-unnamed suspects also were plotting a hit on the couple. The source was not sure of the suspected motive behind the hit.

The Billingses, who each had two biological children, also had adopted 13 special-needs children. Police have said nine of the children were at home at the time of the invasion, and one managed to flee and seek help from a neighbor.

CNN's Carolina Sanchez and Ross Levitt contributed to this report.

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