By Ardy Friedberg, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Investigators in Broward and Palm Beach counties are following a trail they hope will lead to the man who murdered Broward Sheriff's Deputy Philip Billings while he was working an off-duty security detail early Sunday morning at a Cadillac dealership near Pompano Beach.
While Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne on Tuesday would say only that many people are being interviewed in the investigation, detectives have asked specifically about Christopher Brad Spicer, 24, of Coconut Creek. Spicer pleaded guilty to a robbery charge in Boca Raton in May 1996.
Previously, the Sheriff's Office released an artist's sketch of a suspect who is white, 6 feet tall, in his mid-20s, with a thin build and light-colored hair. Several witnesses reported seeing a man matching that description get into the passenger side of a mid-1990s Ford Explorer or Expedition in front of the dealership about 12:40 the morning of the murder.
Deputies responded to reports of gunshots and found Billings mortally wounded near a Cadillac with a broken window and damaged doors.
Police have not identified Spicer as a suspect in the case. He became part of the investigation into the deputy's murder when detectives found a pickup registered to him parked on the south side of 51st Street about midway down the block just south of Coral Cadillac, 5101 N. Federal Highway.
In 1996, Spicer pleaded guilty to strong-arm robbery and served five years' probation in a case involving the use of a knife and a silver BB gun. Spicer, a 16-year-old Spanish River High School student at the time, was in a car with three other youths when they stopped another vehicle and tried to extort marijuana from the occupants, according to a police report of the 1995 incident. Spicer, the report says, pointed the gun at one of the victims and said, "I'll kill you, man."
Jenne would not say whether Spicer had been questioned directly, but a man who shares an apartment with him and a former neighbor who lives west of Boca Raton told the Sun-Sentinel that detectives had asked them questions about Spicer.
The former neighbor in Palm Beach County said she was asked by officers about a tall, thin man in his 20s who used to live next door to her.
Sandra Castillo said she told police that a young man matching that description lived two houses away with his mother and father until about a year ago, but that was the extent of the interview.
Spicer's roommate in Coconut Creek, David Stockton, said police questioned him about Spicer on Monday. Stockton said he had not seen Spicer, an electrician, for several days. But he said he didn't think Spicer could be involved in anything as serious as a murder. Stockton said he was questioned again on Tuesday.
Jenne repeatedly has declined to comment on specific suspects. When asked whether it would be useful to show the suspect's sketch on television in Palm Beach County, he said, "We've gotten leads in that area and [the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office and Boca Raton police] are assisting in following up. We're not forgoing the fact that he might be in Palm Beach County. As a matter of fact, I think right now it would be very helpful if his picture was shown up there. It could assist us."
Palm Beach sheriff's spokesman Paul Miller said he would not comment on his agency's involvement in the Billings case or release records of calls to the old Spicer address because the records are related to an open investigation.
"We've been in contact with [the Sheriff's Office] and we've offered any services that we can assist," Miller said. "There has been contact back and forth."
A spokesman for Boca Raton police also said they had offered assistance.
When questioned about Spicer at a news conference on Tuesday, Jenne said, "I've never mentioned his name. Do I know [the composite sketch] to be Mr. Spicer? I would not identify that as Mr. Spicer."
Jenne emphasized that he had told his detectives to proceed with care in the investigation.
"We may solve this case tomorrow, we may solve it in six months or nine months, but we are not going to rush to judgment in this case," he said. "We are going to make sure that we have all the evidence and everything is done properly."
The sheriff said the investigation was proceeding very well.
"The evidence looks particularly good. We're very pleased at where we are," Jenne said. "We want to underscore the fact that we have received dozens and dozens of phone calls from the public in the last 48 hours, but obviously we need more."
Anyone with information is asked to call the Sheriff's Office at 954-765-4321 or CrimeStoppers at 954-493-8477.
As an added inducement Tuesday, the owner of Coral Cadillac announced he has added $70,000 to the reward fund offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who shot the deputy in the head.
"We're doing what we feel is the right thing," Christian Berian said during the taping of a television spot announcing the reward. The advertisement will run in place of the car dealership's regular television advertising until the murderer is arrested, Berian said.
The $70,000 will be added to $25,000 from CrimeStoppers and $5,000 from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, bringing the total to $100,000.
Funeral arrangements for Billings have been finalized.
A visitation will be today from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. at T.M. Ralph Funeral Home, 371 NW 136th Ave. in Sunrise. Thursday's funeral, with full police escort and honors, will be at 11 a.m. at Calvary Chapel, 2401 W. Cypress Creek Road, in Fort Lauderdale. Burial will follow at Fred Hunter Memorial Gardens, 6301 Taft St. in Hollywood.