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Nine years later, man accused of helping torture and kill Tampa men faces murder charge

Natasha Harpel of Bradenton, left, comforts Pam Williams of Sarasota,during a candlelight vigil for Michael Wachholtz and Williams’ son, Jason Galehouse, at Ben T. Davis Beach on Jan. 18, 2004. “It’s about time,” Williams said Thursday of the murder indictment of Scott Paul Schweickert. She said she plans to be in the courtroom when a trial day comes.

Times (2004)

Natasha Harpel of Bradenton, left, comforts Pam Williams of Sarasota,during a candlelight vigil for Michael Wachholtz and Williams’ son, Jason Galehouse, at Ben T. Davis Beach on Jan. 18, 2004. “It’s about time,” Williams said Thursday of the murder indictment of Scott Paul Schweickert. She said she plans to be in the courtroom when a trial day comes.

TAMPA — Pam Williams, who was never able to bury her son, thinks of him every time she passes a trash bin.

Nearly nine years ago, her son, 26-year-old Jason Galehouse, was lured from a gay nightclub to a bungalow in Seminole Heights. He was drugged, sexually tortured and dismembered, his body scattered in garbage bins across the city.

Another young man, Michael Wachholtz, also 26, died a horrifyingly similar death.

The sadistic pair who preyed on men like these evaded murder charges.

Until last week.

On Sept. 20, a grand jury indicted Scott Paul Schweickert, 47, on two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Galehouse and Wachholtz.

"It's about time," Williams, 64, said Thursday. "I'll tell you: My patience has not been that great."

Schweickert acted with "premeditated design," according to the indictment, which was unsealed Thursday.

In 2003, police say, Schweickert flew in from Illinois and with Steven Lorenzo, 53, of Tampa, brought Galehouse and Wachholtz from Club 2606 on Armenia Avenue to Lorenzo's house on Powhatan Avenue, where they drugged and killed the men on successive days that December.

For weeks, friends and family searched for the missing young men. Posters were plastered all over town, and the gay and lesbian community demanded police action.

Wachholtz's body was eventually found, wrapped in a blanket in his Jeep Cherokee. Authorities never found Galehouse.

Police accused Lorenzo and Schweickert and said there were other victims, too — men who survived the house of horrors.

Prosecutors charged Lorenzo with drugging nine men. They charged Schweickert with drugging Galehouse and conspiring with Lorenzo.

Then, horrifying details of murder emerged during Schweick­ert's testimony before a grand jury in 2005. During his testimony — and afterward, while talking with detectives — Schweickert said the victims were given GHB, a nervous system depressant.

He described watching Lorenzo choke the men. He said he held Galehouse's limbs as Lorenzo sawed them off.

Though jurors convicted them of related crimes, the pair still were not charged with murder.

Lorenzo is currently serving 200 years in prison. Schweickert is serving 40 years in prison.

It's unclear why the indictment came now, nearly nine years after the killings. The court file doesn't list new evidence, and the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office declined to elaborate.

A Miranda rights issue may have been one holdup.

The defense argued Schweickert was not offered an attorney during questioning. Detectives argued that Schweickert was not in custody at the time, and so did not need to be read his rights.

Prosecutors waited for another court case dealing with a Miranda rights issue to wind its way through appeals. It had the potential to set precedent and affect cases like this one.

But that was sorted out in 2010, when the U.S. Supreme Court determined that people need only to be told their Miranda rights during "in-custody interrogations."

In other words, the warnings are required only when suspects are not free to leave. Schweickert had been free, police said.

Williams doubted she'd see the day that someone was charged in her son's death. Now she believes she'll see Lorenzo charged also.

She said a detective told her authorities will pursue Lorenzo after Schweickert's case is complete, she said. "They've got a strategy about it," she said.

Brian Winfield, managing director of Equality Florida, said he was glad to hear Thursday of Schweickert's charges.

Equality Florida, a civil rights group that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Floridians, pushed police to pursue the case in 2003.

"It's been a really, really long time coming," he said. "I think it's great news. Finally, after almost nine years, the families and the Tampa Bay community will at least have a chance at getting justice."

Williams plans to be there.

She lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment in Sarasota, unmarried and childless, surrounded by her son's belongings. When a trial day comes, she will be in Tampa, watching.

"It's been so long, I just really get aggravated," she said. "I want to see justice done."

Because the pair never faced murder charges, prosecutors could not pursue the death penalty. Now, the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office can seek death for Schweickert.

Williams hopes it does, and goes after Lorenzo, too.

"I want to be right there," she said. "I want to see them be held down like they held Jason."

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Stephanie Bolling contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

Nine years later, man accused of helping torture and kill Tampa men faces murder charge 09/27/12 [Last modified: Thursday, September 27, 2012 11:52pm]
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