HUDSON — While the sun was setting over U.S. 19 on Saturday, a bottle of Captain Morgan rum made its way around a homeless camp. Leonard Vernon Gregory wandered down a path through the scrub forest and joined the circle of friends. They passed the bottle and words. Later that evening, authorities would find Gregory, 45, on the ground, gurgling blood with severe brain trauma. He died Monday morning.
Deputies arrested two men Saturday night — Colby Lee Davis, 36, and Richard Smorschok, 39 — on charges of attempted murder. Those charges were upgraded to second-degree murder Monday evening. In a jail interview with the Tampa Bay Times, both denied the accusations.
A Pasco sheriff's report states that Davis accused Gregory of sleeping with his girlfriend. Davis, who has about 30 pounds on Gregory, slugged the other man, the report states. Gregory got up to leave. Davis and Smorschok followed. They beat him, then stomped on his head until he stopped moving, the report states.
The drinking circle scattered, leaving Gregory for dead. A witness called Gregory's sister, who called 911. An ambulance took Gregory to Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point with blood on the brain. Deputies found Davis and Smorschok near the homeless camp, north of State 52 along U.S. 19.
Gregory had a home address listed when he was arrested in 2011 on a charge of petty theft. Since then, he had become homeless. None of Gregory's family could be reached Tuesday.
Davis, who had been found guilty mostly on trespassing and disorderly conduct charges in the past, said Smorschok told him to do something about the betrayal or he would. Davis said he was too drunk to stand, but watched Smorschok beat Gregory mercilessly.
"I didn't beat anybody up," Davis said. "I never had any problem with Leo."
At the news of Gregory's death, Smorschok swallowed and folded cuffed hands in the jail. Most of his convictions in Pasco County are for fraud, burglary and battery. He wasn't at the camp, which belongs to a man known only as Uncle Sam, that night, he said, and doesn't know what happened there.
He and Davis became best friends after they fell on hard times in recent years and went to live in the woods. In a community of about 50, he said, rumors of infidelity crop up all the time.
Smorschok said he and Davis befriended Gregory during nights with bottles of Skol vodka from the Walmart closest to their woods. They came to know Gregory as a man who was ugly to strangers, loyal to friends and who carried a hint of a Creole accent from New Orleans, his birthplace.
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Alex Orlando can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.