Friends puzzled by Stallworth's involvement in Pensacola case
Published 8:33 pm Monday, July 20, 2009
By By Adam Robinson and Kerry Whipple Bean
Days after Brewton native Donnie Ray Stallworth Jr. was charged in connection with the high-profile murder of a Beulah, Fla., couple, former classmates and teachers were expressing thoughts of shock and disbelief.
Some exchanged messages on Facebook, noting Stallworth — who graduated from T.R. Miller in 1999 — was a “laid-back, fun guy” and “a good kid” in high school.
How Stallworth went from that “good kid” — a member of the band and a participant in his senior class play — to turning himself in to authorities Monday night has friends puzzled.
Stallworth remained in custody at the Escambia County Correctional Facility, having refused to waive extradition to Florida during a Tuesday hearing. His bond was set at $1 million.
Seven other suspects in the case are jailed in Pensacola, near where the murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings, a couple well-known in their community for their adoption of 13 children with special needs.
Friends’ comments, online postings and public records paint a picture of a young man far different from the images of the suspects in the murder case, shown in surveillance video from the Billings’ house. The video shows seven individuals clad in black when they broke in the home, where police say they stole a safe, shot the couple and fled, all within about 14 minutes.
Tracy Roberson Golden, a classmate of Stallworth and member of the graduating class of 1999 at T.R. Miller, said she was “absolutely floored” when she heard the news.
A woman who friends said was Stallworth’s wife posted a message on her Myspace page, thanking friends for their support and asking for prayers.
She said Stallworth had been working two jobs — including bagging groceries — to help support the family. A mechanic with Air Force Special Operations Command who was stationed at Hurlburt Field, he has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan six times in the past seven years, according to the Myspace page and published reports.
Although he was part of the Special Ops, Air Force officials have said Stallworth did not participate in ground combat while deployed and only had standard combat training.
Even before Stallworth’s alleged involvement in the case become known, the murders of Byrd and Melinda Billings had made news in Alabama and across the nation. Their adoption of 13 special needs children and the strange circumstances surrounding the home invasion have made the mystery headline news.
The Billingses were found dead in their Beulah home Friday night, after police said seven people entered the home through unlocked doors in both the front and back of the house. Nine of the children were home at the time, and at least three saw the intruders, police have said.
One child ran to a neighbor, who reported the crime to police.
Within days, police had released surveillance video — taken from cameras around the home — showing the intruders clad in what Escambia County, Fla., Sheriff David Morgan has called “ninja garb.”
By Thursday, police had eight suspects in custody, in addition to Stallworth:
Police said Thursday they found a van used during the crime and the safe taken from the home at Wiggins’ house. Charged with accessory after the fact, she is the only suspect out on bond.
On Friday, before the Billingses were laid to rest, the couple’s attorney addressed rumors about the safe taken from the home. Rumors have swirled about the contents of the safe, in part because the Drug Enforcement Agency is now involved in the case. Sheriff Morgan has said the DEA is investigating activity of the suspects, not the victims.
Attorney Crystal Spencer said in a statement that the safe contained children’s prescription medication, family documents and jewelry with sentimental value.
But intense speculation about the case remains, as the full details have not yet been revealed. Morgan has compared the case to both the Clutter killings made famous by Truman Capote’s novel “In Cold Blood” to the Charles Manson murders.
On Friday, before the funeral, Melanie Billings’ brother Ed Brock said the day was a time to remember the couple, not dwell on the crime.
For friends of Stallworth, remembering the suspects’ families is also important.
Golden said Stallworth’s parents did not raise their son to be involved in such a crime, Golden said.