NEW PORT RICHEY — The first time Steven Nicholson asked Lawrence Tener about the woman they had met at a bar and drank with, Tener said nothing.
But after a couple of months of silence, Tener could keep his secret no longer.
Nicholson, who testified Tuesday in Tener's murder trial, said Tener was lying on the couch of his Moon Lake mobile home when he said there was something he wanted to tell Nicholson.
It was about that woman, Tammy Lee Bowles.
"He wanted to tell me that the night he went home and I was passed out in the car, he ended up killing her," Nicholson, now a prisoner in Pennsylvania, testified. "He said he used an ax handle. He said that she was stealing weed off him."
It was late October 2004, authorities say, that Tener and Nicholson met Bowles at a Moon Lake bar. When Tener took Bowles back to his house, he claimed she tried to steal marijuana from him. So he grabbed an ax handle and struck her in the head twice, authorities said, then raped her and buried her in a shallow grave in his yard.
Tener, 27, is charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors initially sought the death penalty but took that off the table several weeks before the trial. The maximum sentence Tener could face is life in prison.
His lawyers, in opening arguments Tuesday, said Tener does not deny responsibility for Bowles' death. But he is guilty of manslaughter, not murder.
"There is no evidence of a premeditated plan," Assistant Public Defender Michael Tewell said.
Manslaughter carries a maximum of 15 years in prison.
Nicholson, 27, did not come forward after Tener told him about the killing. He testified that he believed Tener's admission, but they were both hung over so he couldn't be sure.
But in December that year, Tener fell under suspicion in the beating of another woman who met Tener and Nicholson at the same bar Bowles did. When detectives questioned Nicholson about that case, he revealed what he knew about Bowles.
Sheriff's investigators found her body buried near a fence post on Tener's property. She was naked from the waist down.