Steven Lorenzo, accused of 2 Tampa murders, offers no contest plea to avoid death row

Lorenzo is set to go to trial in April on charges that he murdered Jason Galehouse and Michael Wachholtz in 2003.
Steven Lorenzo sits during a 2017 court hearing in Tampa. He has offered to plead no contest to two murders if the state agrees to drop its pursuit of the death penalty.
Steven Lorenzo sits during a 2017 court hearing in Tampa. He has offered to plead no contest to two murders if the state agrees to drop its pursuit of the death penalty.
Published Dec. 29, 2021|Updated Dec. 29, 2021

TAMPA — Steven Lorenzo, who faces an April trial date on charges that he murdered two men at his Seminole Heights home in 2003, has offered to plead no contest if the state agrees to discontinue its pursuit of a death sentence.

In a handwritten, 46-page letter filed in court Dec. 14 and dubbed “mitigation notice,” Lorenzo claims he didn’t kill anyone, but nevertheless acknowledges he will never leave prison.

He also presents a number of arguments against a death sentence.

“The defendant is already at the twilight years of his physical life’s journey,” he writes, “where he is preparing to begin his 63rd year in January 2022, in a physical body that is already failing greatly.”

It is unclear if that state would accept any plea offer from Lorenzo, who has represented himself since he was charged in 2016 with the murders of Jason Galehouse and Michael Wachholtz. The office of Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren told the Tampa Bay Times they are reviewing the offer but no decision has been made.

Lorenzo proposes in the letter that he would be able to preserve the right to appeal his case, something that typically does not happen with a standard guilty plea.

Family members of both men have expressed their support for a death sentence.

“He’s getting scared now,” said Galehouse’s mother, Pam Williams. “He’s chickening out. He doesn’t want to pay for what he did.”

“I just want my justice,” Williams said. “And I want him dead, I’m sorry.”

Lorenzo’s trial has repeatedly been delayed, partly due to his requests for more time to scrutinize the state’s evidence.

Lorenzo is serving a 200-year federal prison sentence. He was convicted in 2005 of using GHB, widely known as a date-rape drug, to facilitate sexual assaults against several men, including Galehouse and Wachholtz.

Prosecutors in his federal trial presented evidence that Lorenzo and another man, Scott Schweickert, plotted to murder the pair, who vanished on back-to-back nights in 2003 after they each visited the same Tampa nightclub.

Schweickert later confessed, describing how Lorenzo drugged the men before attacking and sexually torturing them. He said they dismembered Galehouse’s body in Lorenzo’s garage, then disposed of his body parts in trash bins throughout the city. His remains were never found, but police found his blood in the cobblestone floor in Lorenzo’s garage. Authorities later found Wachholtz’s body inside his Jeep, which was abandoned at a Tampa apartment complex.

Related: In 2003, two men vanished in Tampa. 18 years later, a murder case still lingers

Although both Schweickert and Lorenzo were convicted of federal drug crimes, it took years for state prosecutors to assemble enough evidence to make a murder case. In 2012, Schweickert was charged with the killings. Four years later, he agreed to plead guilty and testify against Lorenzo, whom a grand jury then indicted.

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In his letter, Lorenzo writes that long-term illnesses run in his family and that he expects he will die “sooner than later.” He waxes spiritual, saying that death is something only “the creator” can impose, and likening capital punishment to “euthanasia.”

Throughout the letter, he seems to suggest that life in federal prison would be more miserable than enduring a death sentence. He claims he would like the isolation of death row, where the condemned occupy single-man cells. He has lived in a similar lockdown situation in the Hillsborough County jail for the last four years and says he enjoys it.

“The defendant truly loves who he is,” he writes, “is very comfortable and confident with who he is, and finds that semi-isolation is very pleasing and conducive for him to live and express for himself, as he chooses, where he can do what he wants to do each day, thereby affording him the time he covets to live and express his spirituality.”

He also writes that death row prisoners he has encountered all expressed disappointment at having to give up their single-person cells when their sentences were reduced to life in prison.

He later notes the harsh winters and cold temperatures he experienced at the Indiana facility where he served time for his federal convictions. He says he’d prefer to be in Florida’s warm climate.

Lorenzo later details the ways prison life has helped him. He mentions participation in a residential drug treatment program, work as a teacher and mentor to other prisoners, and education credits he has earned for taking classes.

He writes that he is not intimidated by the threat of capital punishment, calls it “childish” and “ridiculous” and likens it to murder.

He professes a belief in reincarnation, writing that the death penalty “simply enables the defendant the opportunity to come back again into a different physical body, sooner than later.”

“This Florida death penalty case has gone on long enough,” he writes in closing. “It’s now time to settle it and put it all behind us.”