BROOKSVILLE — His head and chest covered in blood, Enrique "Ricky" Acevedo staggered down a rural road south of town on a summer day two years ago.
Acevedo had just been stabbed eight times. The 18-year-old didn't make it 100 yards before he collapsed and stopped breathing and passed away on the sun-baked pavement.
Hours earlier, a woman he had known for just over a month offered a ride to her ex-boyfriend and two strangers. Acevedo wouldn't let her go alone.
He died doing his friend a favor.
On Tuesday, prosecutor Pete Magrino told that story to 12 jurors in a Hernando County courtroom. A 21-year-old redhead named Steven Wesolek, accused of killing Acevedo, sat and listened at the defense table. He has been charged with first degree murder and may face the death penalty if convicted.
Wesolek and the two others involved in the attack — his teenage girlfriend and her mother — were desperate in the days before the crime, he would later tell investigators. They were homeless and hadn't eaten for three days. They had planned to steal the car and flee to Ohio. To get away from this miserable place. To start a new life.
Wesolek insisted to detectives back then that he didn't mean to hurt anyone. It was an accident. After the first cut, Acevedo had just started flailing, he said.
On Tuesday, the dead teenager's parents, Danny and Carmen, watched from the front row of the courtroom as Magrino made opening statements.
The couple had never before heard many of the horrifying details the prosecutor described.
Mrs. Acevedo, her eyes clouding and legs shaking, stared at the ceiling. Her husband bowed his head and turned away. He began to sob.
"You wanna go?" she whispered to him.
Mr. Acevedo said nothing.
At the defense table a few feet away, Wesolek shook his head and rolled his eyes and jotted down notes on a yellow pad. He wore a gray suit and an oversized ivory-colored shirt that covered the tattoos on his forearms. A single word etched on the back of his left hand was still visible: "Honor."
In a recorded interview two years ago, Wesolek admitted to stabbing Acevedo. He has changed his story, insisting he confessed to the crime only to protect the girl he loved, Sabrina Dicus.
At that time, she was 14. The defendant was 19.
He has publicly pleaded his case for months. He has mailed notes to a reporter and twice sent letters to Mr. and Mrs. Acevedo. A judge demanded that he stop.
Wesolek's public defender told jurors this: Sabrina's mother, Sherrie Dicus, planned the crime and manipulated his client. Mrs. Dicus knew how much Wesolek loved her daughter, so she used that to control him.
In June 2010, Mrs. Dicus asked Wesolek if he knew anyone who had a car. He suggested his former girlfriend, Skyler Collins, who had a red 2001 Ford Mustang. Wesolek, his lawyer said, believed the three would take the vehicle but not hurt anyone.
Wesolek offered Collins $20 for the ride. She agreed, but told him Acevedo would be coming with her.
"Okay," she said Wesolek responded. "How big is he?"
Collins told the court she rode in the passenger seat and Acevedo drove. Wesolek and the Dicuses squeezed into the back seat.
Suddenly, someone wrapped a rope around her neck, then pulled it tight. Collins struggled, but couldn't break free. Wesolek, she said, grabbed Acevedo from behind.
Then, everything went black.
Collins testified that she still doesn't know who killed her friend. She never saw the knife.
Wesolek's public defender told jurors Sabrina stabbed Acevedo and her mother choked Collins. Wesolek, he argued, did nothing. Mrs. Dicus is still awaiting trial on murder charges. Her daughter has pleaded guilty to lesser crimes and is expected to testify against Wesolek this week.
Collins regained consciousness when Acevedo slammed on the brakes. The two stumbled out of the car as it rolled into a roadside ditch.
As they fled, the Mustang sped away.
Mr. Acevedo hasn't been the same since then, the day he lost his only boy.
At his son's birth, Mr. Acevedo was so excited, he dropped the camera. The two had worked together on cars since Acevedo could walk. At age 2, he had started to bring his father tools. To him, they were all called screwdrivers.
He was his father's best man when Mr. and Mrs. Acevedo renewed their vows in 2009. Acevedo called his dad "Pops." People called Acevedo his father's "shadow."
For months after the killing, when Mr. Acevedo was lost in his work on a new car, he still called out for his boy to come help him.
Mr. Acevedo didn't speak to his son the day he died. They had planned to see each other at a party later that night.
It was Father's Day.
John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or [email protected]