8/12/2009

Byrd and Melanie Billings Murder in Florida: When Do the Florida Sunshine Laws Kick In? How Does Billings Case Impact the Casey Anthony Defense?

A Florida Grand Jury has just indicted the seven men whose mugshots we've already come to recognize as the "Ninja Warriors" arrested for the murder of Byrd and Melanie Billings. Each of the men -- including the minor, Rakeem Chavez Florence (16) -- have been formally charged with two counts of first degree murder and one count of home-invasion robbery. With this, the death penalty is apparently still on the table.

(The other defendants are Wayne Thomas Coldiron (41); Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. (35); Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Sr. (56); Donald Ray Stallworth (28); Gary Lamont Sumner (30); Fredrick Lee Thornton (19).) It's alleged that the younger Gonzalez was the sole shooter in the case.


Florida Seeks to Hike Up the Bond on Long-Wiggins

Today, the Florida prosecutor is asking the court to increase the bond on the sole female defendant in the case thus far -- Pamela Long-Wiggins. She's charged as an accessory after the fact and she's out free on bail.
Apparently the state attorney -- I think they're called "state attorneys" in Florida, not DAs like here in Texas -- is wanting to up her bond to $500,000. Pamela's also been arrested for bigamy charges, and there are reports she's being investigated for food stamp fraud, too.

Billings Family Confirms Second Safe in the Home

Today, the Billings' family attorney released a presser that there WAS a second safe in the house but it had less than $200,000 in it -- far less than the millions of bucks that was going around in rumors.

Okay. That's what I've read today (I also watched Dateline last night, nothing new there -- if you've been reading Websleuths or Ricksblog, that is.) ... and here's what I'm wondering:

When do the Florida Sunshine Laws impact the Billings case to the extent that they did in the Casey Anthony case?

I can't find a clear answer to this in my web searching. Sure, I found details on the Florida Sunshine Laws themselves. And, I found lawyers that are ready to help journalists fight to enforce the Florida Sunshine Laws. I also found discussions by editors on just how great the media thinks the open records legislation in Florida is for them.

Still, all that being considered, we are not seeing the detail that we saw in the Anthony case. Not at all. The motions, warrants, etc. that are filed in the public record are being scrutinized by the media, the bloggers, the forums, etc. Likewise, the information (press releases, interviews, etc.) from the Billings family and others -- including persons of interest like Henry "Cab" Tice.

But we're are not seeing the investigation file content. No videos or transcripts of interviews by law enforcement. No inventories. Nothing but the initial footage from the Billings' security cameras that was released as the police undertook their manhunt shortly after the killings.

Isn't that interesting? I think so.

Where are the Billings "document dumps"?

Here in Texas lots of attorneys have been jaw-dropping shocked at the amount of information to which the public (read that potential jury pool) has been given access in the Anthony case. Shocking to us, and from what I read and hear from my bretheren in other less sunny jurisdictions, shocking to the point of absurd to lawyers in other jurisdictions, too.

However, here's something to ponder. If the Florida Sunshine Laws apply across the board to all criminal cases (as I think they do, based upon what I've read) then why aren't we seeing lots of state investigatory details about the Billings case by now?

What About Billings as it compares to Anthony -- and Anthony's Trial by Media argument?

And, if there are not big "dumps" in Billings -- as there have been in Anthony -- are we seeing a blatant constitutional defense for Casey Anthony on being tried in the media?

Truth be told, I followed all the Anthony stuff as it was released. I've watched the video interviews, I've read the transcripts, etc. However, as an attorney I wondered as I wadded through all that info (and there's a amazing amount of it) what the Florida attorneys would do with all the exposure.

And, as an attorney I'm not surprised that we're not seeing lots of output from the Billings investigators. That makes sense to me, and I have been favorably impressed with the local authorities in the Billings case. Fast to move, fast to apprehend, they seem professional and astute.

Still, comparing these two high-profile media cases, in the same state, occuring during overlapping time periods, does make one pause. I don't know that I'm asking for Billings to turn into Anthony here, as much as I have that inquiring-minds-want-to-know curiousity.

What I'm pondering is how Billings juxtaposed with Anthony impacts not only the Anthony case, but tells us about the media overall. Lots to think about here.

4 comments:

Vicki said...

The Law has used the Sunshine Laws to try to flush info out of Casey Anthony, and her family. The victim was a child. Those are the two huge differences.

The Law in Escambia County has been involved in the Billings case since that adoption fraud plea. Whatever happened with the used cars happened under their noses. They don't need this, and they're trying hard to avoid bad news about the victims.

It is VERY STRANGE that the 911 call hasn't been released.

Rebecca said...

Hi Vicki,
Thanks for writing!

I agree with you that the authorities appear to have used the investigation materials as a means to pressure Casey Anthony. Point well made.

My thoughts here are first, while the Anthony case involves a child as a murder victim, the Billings case also involves extremely sympathetic victims - (1) parents who adopted so many special needs children and (2) several children who were victimized by being present during the Billings murders. So, both cases have victims with similarities.

Secondly, assuming that law enforcement consciously used their investigation materials to put pressure on the Anthonys by releasing so much to the media and the public (whereas the Billings case has authorities holding things very close to the vest), then that would arguably support an appellate argument that Anthony's due process was violated - maybe. Showing what they have to Casey to pressure her is one thing. Showning it to all of us via the media is another, and this is what a "trial by media" argument could be based upon - the use of the Sunshine Laws to circumvent the standard judicial process.

I'm curious about that 911 call as well, and I'm wondering about the law regarding the release of these emergency recordings. Are federal laws applicable here as well as the state sunshine statutes? Good call on that -- I hadn't thought about the 911 call recording. Fascinating that we haven't heard it, in our local news the 911 recordings are pretty much standard fare these days.

Finally, I'm not saying that I want Billings to turn into Anthony. I don't.

I am respectful of how the Billings case is being handled, and as curious as I am, I don't need to know everything now. I'll learn things as the cases are tried. (And the true crime books are written....)

Finally, as someone who works with abused and neglected kids in Chlldren's Court, my hat's off to Byrd and Melanie Billings for all they did for these kids and I'm extremely impressed with how their daughter and her husband have stepped in to keep those kids together and in that home (see my earlier post here).

Thanks again for writing, Vicki, and for giving me some things to think about!
Have a great weekend,
Reba

dizzyblonde said...

more on Gonzalez, another "attempted" hit and panhandle corruption:

http://markturnerandfriends.blogspot.com/

Rebecca said...

DizzyBlonde,
Thanks for sharing this link ... not only is it informative on the Billings case: I've instituted a family rule that the garage door is to be locked at all times!
Wow.
-R