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Defense argues that Hernando murderer should be spared from death penalty

BROOKSVILLE — The 6- by 4-foot white poster board sat on a stand at the front of the courtroom. A time line of dates and ages and terrible things stretched across 12 broad sheets of paper.

This was Steven Wesolek's life.

Twenty-one years. Ten foster homes. Five psychological evaluations. Four reports of abuse. One murder.

Wesolek was convicted last week of killing 18-year-old Enrique "Ricky" Acevedo in a carjacking on June 20, 2010. A 12-person jury is scheduled to decide today if he should die for the crime.

On Tuesday, public defender Kirk Campbell insisted to the court that his client was worth saving. Life, he told the jury, never afforded Wesolek a chance.

His father, Joseph Mathis Jr., met a woman at a bar in 1987. Her name was Debbie and she was a stripper. She walked up to Mathis on the first night they met and asked him if he would marry her.

Five days later, he did.

The couple had their first child, Cindy, soon after. Around January 1990, she got pregnant with a son, Steven.

Mrs. Mathis, later diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, abused alcohol during pregnancy, witnesses told jurors Tuesday. She drank at least six beers a day. After his birth, she complained that he had ruined her body.

Mr. Mathis drank even more. He preferred a case of beer during the day and a bottle of Jack Daniel's at night.

For years, he didn't know what it felt like to fall asleep.

"I drank till I passed out," he told the court. "When I came to in the morning, I went to work."

From the start, witnesses said, the couple fought.

When Wesolek was 2, his mother came home late one evening and started yelling at his father. Mr. Mathis, he admitted to jurors, grabbed a gun and chased her outside. As she ran down the road with the kids dangling from her arms, he fired round after round into her car.

Homeless for months at a time, the kids often slept in a vehicle with their mother. Once, she took them with her to buy drugs.

"She had us hide on the floorboard in the back seat of the car," Cindy Mathis testified, "because the crack dealer wouldn't sell to her with her kids there."

In November 1997, both parents were arrested on the same day. A protective services investigator insisted that the children should be taken from the home.

"Debbie and Joe used drugs for six years," a report said. "They took children along on drug sales, robbery, drunk driving and prostitution in the past."

Wesolek was already so unruly that he had pulled a butcher knife on a family friend who took care of him. He was 7.

"Children will be dead," the report said, "if returned to either parent."

State officials took the kids away soon after and, three years later, the Mathises lost their parental rights. Since 1980, Mr. Mathis has been arrested 21 times; his former wife, 19.

Wesolek's life, Campbell told jurors, didn't improve in foster care. Angry and unmanageable, he was passed from one home to the next. Doctors diagnosed him with depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. They prescribed medication.

Then, at age 11, he was adopted and took the last name of Wesolek. That family sent him to two boot camp-like academies, one in Iowa and the other in Mississippi. Nothing seemed to help.

Four months before his 16th birthday, the Wesoleks drove back to Brooksville and dropped him at his grandmother's home. They didn't want him anymore.

Here, he drifted between relatives' homes. He smoked weed with his father and crack cocaine with his mother. He threatened to kill himself in 2008.

In 2009, though, he seemed to find some hope. He enrolled in a GED prep course and told people he wanted to join the military. A year later, Wesolek fell in love with a girl named Sabrina Dicus. At the time, he was 19 and she was 14, though he says he didn't know that. She attended his graduation on June 3, 2010.

Wesolek began living in the woods with his girlfriend and her mother, Sherrie Dicus. The three were desperate, he later told an investigator, when they devised a plan to steal a car, flee the state and start a new life.

So, Wesolek called former girlfriend Skyler Collins and asked for a ride. She agreed, but Acevedo, her friend, wouldn't let her go alone. He drove.

After the three got into Collins' Ford Mustang, Wesolek stabbed Acevedo while Sherrie Dicus choked Collins until she passed out, authorities say. Collins regained consciousness when Acevedo slammed on the brakes, and the two stumbled out of the car near a rural intersection south of Brooksville.

As the car sped away, Acevedo died on the side of the road.

On that time line in court, the last entry is from the day of the killing. It's just one word.

DEATH.

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or jcox@tampabay.com.

Defense argues that Hernando murderer should be spared from death penalty 05/15/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 11:30pm]
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