BROOKSVILLE — On Tuesday, Basil Aftousmis heard a 21-year-old murderer's life story.
Steven Wesolek's father, Joseph Mathis Jr., was a career thief who drank a case of beer each day and a bottle of Jack Daniel's each night. His mother, Debbie Mathis, was a stripper and a schizophrenic and a drug addict.
When Wesolek was 7, and his parents were both in jail, a protective services investigator insisted that he and his older sister be removed from the home. "Children will be dead," a report said, "if returned to either parent."
Aftousmis and the 11 other jurors in Wesolek's capital murder trial heard that and a lot more about the defendant's youth: the reports of abuse, the stays in 10 foster homes, the adoptive parents who abandoned him.
On Wednesday in Hernando County Circuit Court, a judge asked those jurors to recommend whether Wesolek should live or die for fatally stabbing 18-year-old Enrique "Ricky" Acevedo in a carjacking two years ago.
The decision, the 75-year-old juror said, was easy.
The jury unanimously recommended to Judge Daniel Merritt Sr. that he sentence Wesolek to life in prison, which the judge did minutes later.
"The young guy was born in hell, he lived in hell and he's going to hell," Aftousmis told the Times later Wednesday. "Us being another part of that hell was not going to help anything."
In June 2010, Wesolek was living in a tent with his girlfriend, Sabrina Dicus, and her mother, Sherrie Dicus. The three were desperate, he later told an investigator. They were homeless and hadn't eaten for days. They had planned to steal a car, flee the state and start a new life.
So, Wesolek called former girlfriend Skyler Collins and asked if she could give him and two other people a ride. She agreed, but Acevedo, her friend, wouldn't let her go alone.
He drove, and Collins rode in the passenger seat. Wesolek and the Dicuses squeezed into the back. As they approached a solitary intersection south of Brooksville, authorities say, Wesolek stabbed Acevedo while Sherrie Dicus choked Collins until she passed out. Collins regained consciousness when Acevedo slammed on the brakes, and the two stumbled out of the car.
He collapsed, stopped breathing and died on the pavement.
All three suspects were caught in less than a day and, in a recorded interview, Wesolek admitted to the murder.
The defendant has since changed his story and took the stand in his own defense last week. Wesolek insisted he confessed only to protect the girl he loved, Sabrina Dicus, who he now says was the real killer. She was 14 at the time. He was 19.
Mrs. Dicus has yet to be tried on murder charges; her daughter has pleaded guilty to lesser crimes and awaits sentencing.
Wesolek's testimony, Aftousmis said, had little effect on the jurors. On Friday, they found him guilty of the murder in just more than four hours.
Their recommendation that he spend his life in prison took about half that time.
In the moments just before a clerk read their verdict Wednesday afternoon, Acevedo's mother, Carmen, clutched a black and white blanket that had belonged to her son. A photograph of the smiling teenager was tucked inside it.
She never expected to hear the words "life in prison."
Mrs. Acevedo sobbed when the verdict was read, then rushed from the courtroom. "As a mother who lost her son," she said later, "I was disappointed."
At times over the last two weeks, Wesolek seemed confident, even cocky. He laughed and joked with deputies. He shook his head and rolled his eyes as witnesses gave their testimony. Before his conviction, he even told one bailiff he was a "mirage" and would soon "Houdini outta here."
The defendant didn't react when the clerk read the jury's verdict. He glanced at the defense table, then at his lawyers. The bailiffs soon shackled his hands and feet and escorted him from the room.
No one from his family attended Wednesday's proceedings.
John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or [email protected]