Thursday, September 20, 2018
News Roundup

Steven Lorenzo appears in Tampa court, 13 years after torture murders

TAMPA — He's accused in the sadistic murders of two men more than a decade ago. Last week, he was brought back to Hillsborough County to face trial. He faces the death penalty.

None of that appeared to matter much to Steven Lorenzo when he appeared in court Wednesday morning.

He told a judge he doesn't want a lawyer, that the court was "a fiction," and that he had already "settled" his case.

"I am a sovereign man," Lorenzo declared. "I am not a public figure."

The 58-year-old convict, one of the most notorious criminals in Tampa Bay history, appeared to invoke a defense rooted in the so-called sovereign citizen movement, whose adherents shun the legitimacy of government and established laws.

In keeping with the sovereign philosophy, he refused to let jail deputies take his mug shot when he arrived last week, Hillsborough sheriff's officials said.

"I guess he's decided he's now a sovereign citizen and wants to behave like one," said Col. Kenneth Davis, who oversees Hillsborough County's jail operations.

In court, Lorenzo couldn't avoid the photographers. His hair had grayed since his image last appeared publicly 10 years ago.

He gazed at spectators through bold-framed glasses while awaiting his arraignment on charges that he killed Jason Galehouse and Michael Wachholtz in December 2003.

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Speaking in a heavy New York accent, Lorenzo insisted he did not want help from a public defender.

That prompted Circuit Judge Mark Kiser to read him a lengthy series of questions to determine if he understood what he was doing.

"It's almost always unwise to represent yourself in court," the judge said. Lorenzo remained adamant that he did not want legal assistance.

"This is a fiction, corporate court," he said. "I am not a corporate person. I am a living, breathing being."

He said again he did not want an attorney. He also refused to enter a plea.

"I will not plea," he said. "I'm here to settle. I'm not here to plea."

Kiser entered two not guilty pleas on his behalf.

J.J. MacNab, a national expert on anti-government extremism, said it is possible Lorenzo picked up his sovereign beliefs in prison. The movement has a sizable following among the incarcerated.

"A lot of people who try to pull this defense see it as a get-out-of-jail free card," MacNab said. Typically such tactics anger judges, she said, and result in a psychological evaluation.

"It has never worked for anyone in any court ever," MacNab said. "I think it's part of the idea that if you don't have the facts and the law on your side, you pound the table. It's a Hail Mary."

Because of his refusal to be photographed, Lorenzo has been held in "administrative confinement" since his return to Hillsborough from an Indiana federal prison.

That means he is barred from most inmate privileges, like making phone calls and buying candy and food at the jail canteen. Instead, he sits by himself in a cell for 23 hours a day.

Ordinarily, jail staff would force an inmate to sit for a mug shot, Davis said. But since Lorenzo isn't going anywhere, they say it's not worth fighting him.

"Once he decides he wants candy bars, he'll let us take his picture," Davis said.

Lorenzo was convicted in federal court in 2005 on nine counts of administering GHB, a date rape drug, and one count of conspiring with another man charged in the crimes, Scott Schweickert.

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Schweickert told investigators he helped lure Galehouse and Wachholtz separately to Lorenzo's home in Seminole Heights, where they were sexually tortured and killed.

He said he helped Lorenzo dismember Galehouse's body with an electric saw and dispose of it in trash bins throughout the city. Wachholtz' body was found in his abandoned Jeep in an apartment complex.

The case received widespread attention at the time, with speculation that other gay men may have been victimized.

Lorenzo was sentenced to 200 years in federal prison. Schweickert was convicted of similar offenses and got 40 years.

Last year, Schweickert pleaded guilty to murder charges and agreed to testify against Lorenzo in exchange for a life sentence.

Lorenzo's next court hearing is set for Oct. 30.

Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

     
     
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