A detachment of law officers was dispatched from Northwest Florida on Wednesday afternoon to ferry inmate Mary Barbara Craig Rice from Georgia to the Santa Rosa County Jail.
Once within the jurisdiction of the First Judicial Circuit, Rice, a participant alongside William “Billy” Boyette Jr. in a week-long crime spree that left four dead, will be charged with first-degree murder, according to State Attorney Bill Eddins.
“As a result of our investigation to date, and as a result of cooperation between my office and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, we are jointly announcing today that we are in the process of filing first-degree murder charges against Mary Rice,” Eddins said.
Rice is being charged specifically with participating in the shooting death of Pensacola resident Kayla Crocker, who police say was the fourth to die at the hand of Boyette. Crocker, 28, was mortally wounded Monday in a home invasion robbery at her home on Beulah Road. She died in a Pensacola hospital early Tuesday afternoon.
Rice was taken into custody Tuesday night at a motel near West Point in Troup County, Georgia. Deputies from the Troup County Sheriff’s Office converged on the rural motel about 5:30 p.m. after a motorist reported spotting the stolen Chevrolet Cobalt she and Boyette were though to be driving.
Immediately after Rice surrendered, Boyette killed himself with a single gunshot to the head, according to Troup County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Stewart Smith.
Rice also faces capital murder charges in Baldwin County, Alabama.
Peggy Phillips Broz, 52, was gunned down in front of her home in Lillian on Feb. 3. Authorities believe Boyette, with Rice in his company, shot and killed Broz before stealing her car, which was later found abandoned in Escambia County.
Eddins said prosecutors on both sides of the state line will complete their investigations before it is determined where Rice will face trial first.
Rice also faces charges in Santa Rosa County as an accomplice to Boyette after the fact of murder. She was caught on videotape at the Crestview Walmart buying bullets while Boyette waited outside. The purchase was made after Boyette had been named a suspect in the Jan. 31 fatal shootings of Alicia Greer and Jacqualine Moore at a motel near Milton.
Boyette, accompanied by Rice, terrorized residents of Northwest Florida and south-central Alabama during his reckless week-long killing spree.
The four fatal shootings, all of which were committed by a firearm of the same caliber, happened within a relatively compact area, but Eddins said authorities have learned the couple traveled widely as fugitives.
“Our investigation indicates generally that they moved around more than we were aware,” Eddins said. “They left Northwest Florida and came back in at various times.”
The murders began Jan. 31 at the Emerald Sands Inn just south of the city limits of Milton on U.S. 90 in Santa Rosa County. Witnesses told authorities they heard approximately six shots fired around 2:30 a.m., and one man said what must have been a bullet went through a wall into his hotel room and shattered the bathroom mirror.
Later that morning, investigators found the bodies of Greer, 30, and Moore, 39.
Boyette and Greer were in a relationship, that like others involving the 44-year-old Boyette, had turned violent. The Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office had issued arrest warrants for him, according to Greer’s father, Wayne Lane. Indications are that Boyette had severely beaten Greer and stolen her vehicle sometime before the killing.
Moore and Greer were Facebook friends, but reports indicate they had not known each other very long. In an interview with her mother conducted over social media, one news station learned that Moore had moved to Northwest Florida to be closer to a daughter stationed at Pensacola NAS.
The mother said Moore had canceled a trip home to Ohio so she could stay in Florida and support Greer.
Moore and Greer were both mothers to three children.
The third fatal shooting attributed to Boyette occurred three days after the first, 35 miles from Milton in Lillian, Ala.
Broz, 52, was gunned down in front of her home the morning of Feb. 3 after returning from her job as a respiratory therapist at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola. Authorities believe Boyette shot and killed Broz before stealing her car, which was later found in a wooded area near Interstate 10 and Nine Mile Road.
Lillian is just over the Alabama line in Baldwin County. It was close enough to Pensacola that Broz had worked in the city for more than 30 years.
After killing Broz, Boyette and Rice crossed back into Florida, where on Monday they are believed to have killed Crocker. It was Crocker's stolen Chevrolet Cobalt that was spotted by a motorist in West Point, leading to the end of the manhunt.
Eddins, who held a news conference Wednesday to update progress in the Boyette-Rice investigation, initially had indicated it could be at least a week before Rice could be brought back to Florida.
He said the investigation of the Georgia phase of the case and the extradition process moved more quickly than anticipated, thanks to the cooperation of Troup County authorities.
Representatives of the Santa Rosa, Escambia and Baldwin sheriff’s offices, along with the State Attorney’s Office, were briefed on the case immediately upon their arrival in Troup County, Eddins said. Physical evidence also was promptly turned over.
“The cooperation between all the agencies has been excellent. That has contributed to the success of this investigation,” Eddins said.
Peter Skandalakis, the district attorney serving Troup County, expedited a court hearing Tuesday during which Rice waived extradition and freed up authorities to move her back to Florida, Eddins said.
Eddins credited aggressive police work, media cooperation and “an observant group of citizens” with helping to close the Boyette case. Particular praise, he said, should go to the anonymous caller who reported seeing Boyette and Rice as they approached the Motel West Point where they were cornered.
“We all are appreciative to an unknown person in Georgia who was driving along a small road in a small town and was observant to what was going on around him,” he said.