BRANDON — The men stabbed and beat him. But Robert Mason Brewer didn't die. So they stabbed him again and stuffed him into a duffel bag, loaded him onto a dolly and hoisted him into a trash bin.
One man poured gasoline on him, Hillsborough sheriff's officials said. Then they lit him on fire and walked away, ignoring Brewer's screams, a witness later reported.
On Tuesday, a day later, authorities arrested three men they say are responsible for the grisly murder of Brewer, 26, of Valrico.
Brendan Lee Terry, 20, and Kasey Lee Ackerman, 20, are charged with first-degree murder. David James Link II, 18, is charged as accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.
The three are roommates. They lived at 201 Brandon Manor Court, where the Sheriff's Office said the killing began.
Ackerman told deputies he stabbed the victim because Brewer was getting close to his girlfriend, authorities said. Deputies said Link admitted he helped dispose of the victim's body.
Deputies say it all started with a trip to the Westfield Brandon Mall on Monday, a place where Link and Ackerman often hung out, according to family.
Authorities gave this account of the incident:
The three met the victim, whom deputies say the men didn't know, and he agreed to go to their apartment to take Xanax and Roxicodone, a potent pain-killer.
Brewer went into Ackerman's room and passed out in a chair. About 2 a.m., Terry and Ackerman walked into the bedroom and started stabbing Brewer in the neck and chest, deputies said. A witness, whose name was not released, saw him bleeding.
They took the victim to the bathroom and Ackerman ordered Brewer to remove his clothes, deputies said. Ackerman told the victim to get into the bathtub, and he began kicking and hitting the victim.
Then Link and the unnamed witness bought $3 in gasoline with money Ackerman gave Link. After the two returned with the gasoline, Ackerman noted the victim wasn't dead and stabbed the man in the neck again, deputies said.
They took him out of the bathtub and placed him on top of clear plastic on the bathroom floor, before loading him into his own duffel bag.
The witness said the victim was still breathing.
They used a dolly to carry Brewer a few blocks away, to a large trash bin at 305 E Brandon Blvd., the witness said. That's where he was set on fire.
The unnamed witness told deputies the victim screamed.
Brewer's remains were discovered Tuesday morning. Investigators used dental records to identify him, said Hillsborough sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter.
All three suspects remained in jail Wednesday without bail.
They had previously been arrested in connection with nonviolent crimes. Link has been arrested on charges of burglary, drug possession and failure to appear in court, according to state records. Terry, who goes by the alias "Trash Can," has been accused of trespassing and petty theft, and Ackerman was charged with burglary, drug possession, car theft and criminal mischief.
Ackerman's sister, Tara Ackerman, 18, of Tampa said she was shocked by her brother's arrest. They grew up in foster care and had a rough life. He turned to drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine, she said.
"My brother's not a monster," she said.
Her brother didn't have a job, but he panhandled, she said. He was a smooth talker and could persuade other people to help him panhandle, she said. He used to visit her house every day, where she would cook for him, but he stopped a few months ago.
Ackerman's sister said Link's mother also lived at the apartment, along with her 4-year-old son, who the sister feared may have been in the apartment at the time of the murder.
David Link's father, James Link, said in a phone call from his home in South Carolina that he is shocked by the charges against his son, who he says has a good heart.
He blamed his son's alleged involvement on his son's mother, Rosanna Dimauro, 38, with whom he lives in Brandon. James Link said he raised his son for the first 16 years of his life, but then David Link decided to move in with his mother. He stopped attending school and his drug use increased, James Link said.
"She couldn't take care of him," James Link said.
Dimauro was convicted of cocaine distribution in 1992 and has been arrested in Hillsborough County multiple times since then, including Tuesday afternoon, when deputies charged her with possession of ecstasy. She remains in jail on a $5,000 bond.
The victim, too, had a lengthy arrest record, peppered with references to marijuana, Xanax, hydrocodone and heroin. Brewer was released from prison in January 2009 after a drug trafficking conviction.
He was a 2001 graduate of Wharton High School who, according to arrest records, held short term jobs as a prep cook and auto detailer.
As investigators worked the crime scene Wednesday morning, neighbor Tiffanie Noesges said about five people have lived in the apartment for about four months.
"They were normal," said Noesges, 24. "Just average."
Another neighbor, 32-year-old Robert Mainellis, said the five "seemed like party animals."
Mainellis said another neighbor came to his apartment the night of the incident, wanting to use the phone to call police because she heard fighting coming from the area where the incident happened.
Times news researcher Will Gorham and staff writer Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.