BROOKSVILLE — Steven Wesolek, his hands and legs shackled, shuffled across the courtroom in a sagging dark gray suit. He glanced at the prosecutor's table, turning to Pete Magrino, the man who has argued for the last four days that Wesolek committed murder two years ago and should die for it.
"I'll tell you what, Mr. Magrino," Wesolek said, grinning. "When I come back in five years and win my appeal, I'll buy you lunch."
"Don't talk to me," the prosecutor replied.
Minutes later, the 21-year-old defendant took the stand.
On June 20, 2010, authorities say, Wesolek stabbed to death 18-year-old Enrique "Ricky" Acevedo in a carjacking. He may face the death penalty if convicted.
For 24 minutes Thursday afternoon, as public defender Alan Fanter questioned him, Wesolek insisted to 12 jurors that he harmed no one that day.
His testimony contradicted the confession he gave to a Hernando County sheriff's detective the day after Acevedo died — a recording of which jurors spent much of Thursday watching.
Wesolek and the two others involved in the attack — his teenage girlfriend and her mother — were desperate in the days before the crime, he told the investigator. They were homeless and hadn't eaten for three days. They had planned to steal the car and flee the state. To start a new life.
Early on the day of the killing, Wesolek had called his former girlfriend, Skyler Collins, and asked if she could give him and his friends a ride. She agreed, but Acevedo, her friend, wouldn't let her go alone. He drove.
After the three got into Collins' Ford Mustang, investigators say, Wesolek stabbed Acevedo while his girlfriend's mother, 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 near the intersection of Ayers and Culbreath roads, south of Brooksville.
As the car sped away, Acevedo died on the side of the road.
But that story, Wesolek told the jury, was all a lie. He had taken the blame for his girlfriend, Sabrina Dicus, who he now says was the real killer. She was 14 at the time. He was 19.
Magrino attacked nearly every aspect of Wesolek's new story, pointing out the dozens of ways it had changed since he first spoke to the detective.
Still, the defendant insisted he had merely tried to protect the girl he loved.
"You said in that statement a number of times that you were praying to God," Margino asked him about the confession. "Didn't you?"
"Is that God you believe in forgiving?"
"Yes, sir. He is."
With that, Magrino sat down, then the defense rested its case. Both sides will present their closing arguments to jurors this morning.
After the proceedings concluded, a bailiff walked up to Wesolek and cuffed his hands, preparing to escort him from the room.
"I'm going to Houdini outta here," Wesolek told the bailiff. "I'm not even here right now. I'm a mirage."
The bailiff stopped and looked at him.
"Excuse me?" he asked.
"Y'all are talking to a mirage."
John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or firstname.lastname@example.org.