TAMPA — Nineteen years since Jason Galehouse and Michael Wachholtz vanished after visiting the same nightclub, Steven Lorenzo admitted in a Tampa courtroom that he sexually tortured and murdered the men before disposing of their bodies.
In a slightly surreal court hearing Tuesday morning, Lorenzo listened quietly as a prosecutor recited a graphic account of the crimes. He said the details were mostly true, but then briefly told his own lurid if somewhat convoluted story in what he said was an effort to correct inaccuracies.
He claimed that there were other people involved in the murder of Galehouse, and that the killing was “a group decision” to stop him from calling the police.
He said he didn’t know the other people and was uncertain of their names. He described sexual activity with Galehouse, but said he didn’t want to “tarnish the memory of this kid.” He admitted that Galehouse was dismembered, but claimed someone else did that part.
“I cannot tell you how much what I’m hearing from you infuriates me,” Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher Sabella told Lorenzo.
The judge then asked a question many in Tampa have long wondered: Did Lorenzo kill other people?
“No,” was his quick reply.
Lorenzo pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder. He remained adamant that he wants the death penalty.
Lorenzo was convicted in 2005 in federal court of using GHB, a date-rape drug, to facilitate the sexual assaults of several men, including Galehouse and Wachholtz. Prosecutors said he and another man, Scott Schweickert, fantasized in online chats about drugging, raping and killing men.
The killings, similar sexual assaults and suspicious disappearances of gay men struck fear in the LGBTQ community at the time.
Schweickert later admitted his role in the crimes. He and Lorenzo were both sentenced to federal prison. But it was more than a decade before a murder case — and the prospect of the death penalty — took shape. Schweickert ended up pleading guilty and agreeing to testify against Lorenzo in exchange for a life sentence.
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While the judge has been cordial to Lorenzo in prior hearings, his tone Tuesday was stern. Sabella told Lorenzo he would not hesitate to order Lorenzo’s execution if he decides it’s appropriate.
“Yes, I understand that,” Lorenzo said. “I’m counting on that.”
The judge said he was puzzled. Lorenzo said he’d explained in a letter to the court why he wasn’t opposed to being given capital punishment.
“As far as I’m concerned … everybody who’s born from the womb was born with a death sentence,” Lorenzo said. “Everybody in this room is on death row. We’re all going to go sometime.
“I should have passed away at 45 because I was overdosing on drugs so much,” he said. “What you guys did when you arrested me, you gave me an extra 20 years of life, which is very interesting.”
No one in court voiced any concerns about Lorenzo’s mental state. The judge opined that Lorenzo appears to be intelligent and aware of what he’s doing.
Lorenzo nodded and smiled.
The judge set a February date for the case to move into the penalty phase. He discussed with attorneys having a mitigation expert investigate the case to assemble arguments that might weigh against a death sentence.
Lorenzo remained steadfast that he does not want any such evidence presented.
“The mitigation is not going to be used, right?” he asked.
The judge explained his legal obligation to consider the case’s aggravating factors against anything else that would weigh against the death penalty. He said again, though, that if the aggravating factors are sufficient, he will impose a death sentence.
“That is why I want you,” Lorenzo said. “I trust your judgment.”
Tyler Butler, a close friend of Galehouse, and Carrie West, the president of Tampa Pride, spoke with reporters after the hearing, expressing hope that the long-running case might soon reach an end.
“Reliving everything, and hearing what he did to my friend, was incredibly difficult,” Butler said. “You think you can prepare for it in your mind until you hear it from the guy who murdered our friend.”
West said he found “a little fictitiousness” in Lorenzo’s story. He called him a “cancer” on the community and said he believes there are many other victims.
“He is strictly a monster,” West said. “Rabid dogs you don’t keep.”