Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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.


John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or

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

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Families dispute claims that slain Tampa Palms roommates shared neo-Nazi beliefs


    TAMPA — Andrew Oneschuk never liked making small talk on the phone, his father said, but the last time the two spoke, something seemed off.

    Andrew Oneschuk and Jeremy Himmelman lived in a Tampa Palms apartment with Devon Arthurs and Brandon Russell. Oneschuk and Himmelman reportedly planned to move out.
  2. Brad Culpepper makes it to final 3 on Survivor, but jury picks Sarah

    The Feed

    UPDATE, WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Tampa's Brad Culpepper make it to the final 3 on Survivor, but jurors chose Sarah as the winner of the $1 million.

    Original report follows:

    "The Tables Have Turned" - Brad Culpepper, Tai Trang and Hali Ford on the fourth episode of SURVIVOR: Game Changers on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Jeffrey Neira/CBS Entertainment
  3. Erasmo Ramirez continues to deliver for Rays

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Pitching coach Jim Hickey has a saying he uses with the Rays pitchers: "Don't let them hit the ball. Make them hit the ball."

    HUG IT OUT: Souza, back, celebrates his two-run homer with a congratulatory hug from Rays catcher Jesus Sucre.
  4. Tom Jones: Rays made right move sending Blake Snell to minors

    The Heater

    tom jones' two cents

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays took their team photo before Wednesday night's game against the Angels. One player who should have been there was not: pitcher Blake Snell.

    Blake Snell’s struggles on the mound were only one of the reasons the Rays sent him to the minors; some other red flags existed. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  5. Florida Republicans react to 'CBO score' of health care bill












    Actually, there is no reaction, and that speaks volumes. The Senate has already effectively declared the bill dead and is working on its own. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami did not issue a statement voluntarily but issued …