ST. PETERSBURG — Through the surge of phone calls and texts following the disappearance of Pinellas County attorney Steven Cozzi, Michael Steven Montgomery said he’s felt like he’s met his husband a second time.
Montgomery has heard stories in those calls about Cozzi he hadn’t before his husband went missing. He said even while he awaits answers on what happened to his husband, learning more about Cozzi has been a gift.
Montgomery spoke about Cozzi to a crowd — including other members of Cozzi’s family and a few dozen attorneys — gathered outside the St. Petersburg Judicial Center, holding hands and tissues. They exchanged tearful hugs. Some in the crowd carried photos of the missing Pinellas County attorney and wore ribbons pinned to their chests.
Montgomery spoke after a group of local legal leaders, including St. Petersburg Bar Association President Hutch Pinder and 6th Circuit Chief Judge Anthony Rondolino.
Pinder and Rondolino said some attorneys have expressed apprehension about their work after hearing what authorities say happened to Cozzi — that he may have been killed because of a case he was working on.
“We have all been deeply shaken and left feeling vulnerable,” Pinder said. “Based upon the allegations, Steve was murdered for simply doing his job.”
Pinder called the case “shocking” but said he wanted to use the evening to talk about who Cozzi was as a human, not just as the man who remains missing.
He said Cozzi had a quick wit. That he was vibrant and loved to go on biking trips and runs.
“Every conversation left you smiling,” Pinder said.
Rondolino said the work that lawyers do is important, and while the allegations of what happened to Cozzi may be scary, they should continue to be strong.
Cozzi has been representing several defendants in a lawsuit filed by Tomasz Kosowski — the man arrested Sunday and facing a murder charge in the presumed death of the Largo lawyer. There was a court hearing on the morning Cozzi went missing. Kosowski attended, but Cozzi did not.
Cozzi was last seen at his law office — Blanchard Law, located at 1501 S Belcher Road in Largo — on March 21. According to court documents, Cozzi went to the bathroom while in the middle of writing an email. He left his cellphone, wallet and keys on his desk.
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After Cozzi didn’t return from the restroom, someone went looking for him. The Tampa Bay Times previously reported that person found several spots of blood around the bathroom and detected a strong smell of chemicals.
Security footage showed a man leaving the building just before 10:30 a.m., pushing a large cart toward a Toyota Tundra. Court records state the cart contained what appeared to be a red blanket or bag, and the man struggled to load the cart into the bed of his truck.
Cozzi wore a red sweater to work that day.
According to court records, the truck was seen on surveillance footage and license plate scanners driving to Kosowski’s Tarpon Springs home.
Later on the day that Cozzi went missing, Kosowski’s red Toyota Corolla was picked up on license plate readers in the Miami area. When Kosowski was arrested, police found duct tape, succinylcholine — a paralyzing agent — syringes with sedatives, brass knuckles, a Taser and nearly $300,000 in cash in the Corolla, records state. The investigation remains ongoing.
More than a week after Cozzi vanished, Montgomery stood on the stage in St. Petersburg Wednesday night, talking about his husband’s affection for bowties and explaining that he chose to wear a red one to the vigil to honor Cozzi.
Montgomery isn’t an attorney — he joked his eyes would glaze over anytime Cozzi brought up something from work — but he said he always admired Cozzi’s passion for the law.
He said Cozzi was brilliant, hilarious and kind. Yet Montgomery joked Cozzi also would be the one to lock his keys in the car, as Cozzi did on their second date.
In a brief conversation with the Tampa Bay Times after the speeches, Cozzi’s parents, Lois and George, spoke about their son’s sense of humor. They said if he had been in front of a crowd that size, he would have gotten on stage to do a velociraptor impression.
Cozzi also loved “B-rated movies,” his family said. Montgomery joked if someone wanted to honor Cozzi, they should go on Netflix and pick a “slasher movie” over an Oscar-winning title.
“I believe we were here just to love each other,” Montgomery said. “That’s what I’m going to continue to do.”