July 15th, 2009
11:18 PM ET

Eighth person arrested in Florida couple's shooting deaths

[cnn-photo-caption image="http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/07/15/florida.couple.slain/art.long.cnn.jpg" caption="Pamela Long, also known as Pamela Wiggins and by other names, is a 'person of interest' in the Florida case."]


Authorities are charging an eighth person in connection with the slaying of a couple who adopted special-needs children, an official said Wednesday night.

1 of 2 Pamela Long Wiggins will be charged with accessory after the fact of felony murder, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said.

Morgan did not provide further identification on Wiggins and did not say how she is related to the shooting deaths of Byrd and Melanie Billings last week.

Wiggins - whom Morgan had previously identified as Pamela Laverne Long - was located earlier Wednesday in Orange Beach, Alabama.

Morgan said Wiggins had rented property to Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., one of the suspects, but also described her as a "family friend" to Gonzalez.

Keep reading...

Filed under: 360º Follow • Crime & Punishment • T1
July 15th, 2009
09:51 PM ET

Live Blog from the anchor desk 7/15/09

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/02/liveblogfinal.copy.jpg]

Tonight we’re following the latest in the double-murder of Melanie and Byrd Billings, a Florida couple known in their community for adopting special-needs children. The Billings were shot to death in their nine-bedroom home last week. The investigation has been heating up.

Want to know what else we're covering tonight? Read EVENING BUZZ

Scroll down to join the live chat during the program. It's your chance to share your thoughts on tonight's headlines. Keep in mind, you have a better chance of having your comment get past our moderators if you follow our rules.

Here are some of them:

1) Keep it short (we don't have time to read a "book")
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And take a look at our live web camera from the 360° studio. Watch the WEBCAM

Filed under: Live Blog • T1
July 15th, 2009
09:08 PM ET

The best secretarial job in Texas

Program note: More from Gary Tuchman on this story tonight on AC 360º at 10 P.M. ET.

[cnn-photo-caption image="http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/15/art.check.jpg" caption="A former District Attorney paid his secretaries nearly $80,000 in bonuses, with public cash."]

Gary Tuchman
AC360º Correspondent

How much do you think it would pay if you got a job as a secretary working for your county? In Jim Wells County, Texas, which is just west of Corpus Christi, we are told the typical salary is $35,000 a year. So how do you bump up that salary? Well, one way is to have worked for the former District Attorney of the county. You see, three of Joe Frank Garza’s secretaries got extra money totaling more than 1.1 million dollars over a five year period.

That’s an average of more than $80,000 extra dollars a year.

Why? Well, Garza, who is now a private attorney, says they were loyal and excellent employees. Now, in the private sector, you could probably get that kind of raise with controversy only coming from fellow workers who might be jealous. But in the public sector, it’s a different story, particularly with where this money came from. It wasn’t from the regular office budget, but from a so called forfeiture fund. When certain suspects are arrested, they sometimes have to forfeit money and valuables. That cash can then go to police and district attorneys for their spending pleasure. But in the case of D.A.’s in Texas, it must be spent for “official purposes.” This former D.A. says compensating his secretaries was an official purpose because they were such excellent employees. What is particularly stunning is that more than 50 percent of the money he received in his forfeiture fund between 2004-2008 went to these three women. We’ve learned that from an auditors report done on behalf of the county. The former D.A. doesn’t deny giving the secretaries a lot of money, but says he would not do anything differently. The new D.A. though, who beat Garza this past November to get the job, says he should have done things much differently and has now sent the auditor’s report to lawyers in the Attorney General’s office in Texas to get their take.

And by the way, just in case you were wondering, the three secretaries left their jobs when their boss left his.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Gary Tuchman • Keeping Them Honest
July 15th, 2009
08:55 PM ET

Evening Buzz: New details in Florida couple murder

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/07/15/florida.couple.slain/art.family.pnj.jpg caption="Byrd and Melanie Billings did not have any children together, but they cared for 16 children over the years."]

Charly Feldman
AC360° Intern

Tonight we’re following the latest in the double-murder of Melanie and Byrd Billings, a Florida couple known in their community for adopting special-needs children. The Billings were shot to death in their nine-bedroom home last week. The investigation has been heating up, with seven suspects arrested over the last several days. Today we learned the DEA has joined the investigation. We also learned authorities were looking for a person of interest who rented property to one of the suspects in custody. Now they’ve found her. Do her connections to that suspect run even deeper than real estate deals? Escambia Country Sheriff David Morgan will join us tonight to discuss these new developments.

We’re also taking a closer look at the alleged ringleader, Leonard Patrick Gonzales Jr. Before his arrest, he led something of a double-life. He was known in the area for teaching self-defense classes for children and women. But police say he has an extensive criminal history as well. David Mattingly is digging deeper.

Also tonight–newly released footage of Michael Jackson that some say holds the key to understanding Jackson’s alleged abuse of prescription drugs. The 1984 video shows his hair catching fire during the filming of an ad campaign. We’ve all heard about the famous Pepsi commercial, but you have to see it to believe it. Stuart Backerman, a former publicist for Jackson, says the burns Jackson suffered changed his life forever, triggering his spiral into drug dependence. We’ll talk to Backerman tonight.

Plus, new developments in a story we broke a couple of months ago. In Texas, cops can legally spend money seized from criminal suspects. But is it okay for a district attorney to spend more than a million dollars of so-called forfeitures to pay his favorite secretaries? Or is that crossing the line and abusing public funds? Gary Tuchman reports tonight on an audit that’s raising new questions.

We’re also working on some other stories. Michael Ware files from Iraq, where renewed attacks on Christians are taking a heavy toll. And Joe Johns is tracking First Lady Michelle Obama’s fascinating genealogy, from a rice plantation to the White House.

Join us at 10 p.m. eastern for these stories and much more!

Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Michael Jackson • The Buzz
July 15th, 2009
06:40 PM ET

Analysts: Military precision of Florida slaying is worrisome

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/07/15/florida.couple.slain/art.long.cnn.jpg caption="Pamela Long, also known as Pamela Wiggins and by other names, is a "person of interest" in the Florida case."]

Patrik Jonsson
The Christian Science Monitor

Fast, methodical, deadly. Law-enforcement officers have compared the July 9 murder of a wealthy Florida couple known for their charity toward children with a "military operation," a gripping reminder, experts say, that paramilitary tactics can be turned toward civilian destruction.

Saying the incident described "the worst in man," Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan announced Tuesday that police had apprehended the seven main perpetrators – a group of day laborers and auto detailers.

"A couple of individuals with prior military background" were involved, Sheriff Morgan confirmed. "It was a very well-planned and -executed operation." Robbery was the primary motive, and a safe was stolen from the home, officials said. No further information was available about the suspects' military connections at time of writing.


Filed under: Crime & Punishment
July 15th, 2009
06:29 PM ET

Billings murder suspect claims innocence

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/07/15/florida.couple.slain/art.family.pnj.jpg caption="Byrd and Melanie Billings did not have any children together, but they cared for 16 children over the years."]

Kris Wernowsky

Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr. challenged the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office’s investigation into the Byrd and Melanie Billings slayings saying the confession that led to his arrest was made by a man with mental illness.

“With the exception of the statements that have been made, coerced, bullied or manipulated out of a mentally ill person, there is no hard evidence that links me to the scene of the crimes that occurred July 9,” Gonzalez Jr. said.

Gonzalez Jr. made the apparent reference to his father, Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Sr. who confessed to driving his son and a friend to the Billingses’ rural Beulah home. The family patriarch is charged with tampering with evidence for trying to alter the van’s appearance, according to arrest records.


Filed under: Crime & Punishment
July 15th, 2009
06:11 PM ET

Iran crackdown 'shifted' prospects for U.S. talks, Clinton says

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/07/15/clinton.speech/art.clintonspeech.gi.jpg caption="Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a foreign policy address Wednesday."]


Iran's crackdown on protests after its disputed presidential election has "shifted" its prospects for direct talks with the United States, but they remain on the table, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday.

The Obama administration has held open its offer of talks with Iran - which has not had diplomatic relations with Washington since 1980 - despite the clampdown on protesters in Tehran and other cities.

Clinton said that offer remains the "best vehicle" for engaging Tehran - but as President Obama said last week, she said it "will not remain indefinitely."


Filed under: 360° Radar • Hillary Clinton
July 15th, 2009
05:51 PM ET
July 15th, 2009
04:48 PM ET

Katherine and Joe Jackson a unique team

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/SHOWBIZ/Music/07/15/katherine.joe.jackson/art.jacksonparents.courtesy.jpg caption="An image of Michael Jackson and his parents was on the big screen during his funeral in Los Angeles."]
Lisa Respers France

Michael Jackson's upbringing was shaped by two very different parents.

His mother, Katherine Jackson, has been portrayed by her children as the loving glue that bonded the family together, while her husband, Joe, was the harsh disciplinarian whose iron hand not only shaped one of the most successful musical families in the world, but also elicited enough fear in his superstar son that it sometimes made him ill.

Now the couple of 60 years stands at the center of a custody drama surrounding their grandchildren.

Michael Jackson's will, filed in 2002, designated his mother as caregiver for Prince Michael, 12, Paris, 11, and "Blanket," 7.

It is the latest installment in the many trials that have tested the Jackson family, not least of which has been the unexpected loss of its most famous member.

Keep reading...

Filed under: 360° Radar • Michael Jackson
July 15th, 2009
04:30 PM ET

Beat 360º 7/15/09

Ready for today's Beat 360°? Everyday we post a picture – and you provide the caption and our staff will join in too. Tune in tonight at 10pm to see if you are our favorite! Here is the 'Beat 360°' pic:

US President Barack Obama throws out the first pitch of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game on July 14, 2009 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by: TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Have fun with it. We're looking forward to your captions! Make sure to include your name, city, state (or country) so we can post your comment.

__________________________________________________________________________________ Beat 360° Challenge

Filed under: 360° Radar • Beat 360° • T1
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