TAMPA — Almost 20 years ago, Steven Lorenzo and Scott Schweickert, in a series of America Online chats, hatched a scheme to sexually assault and murder gay men.
On Monday, they sat directly across from each other in a Tampa courtroom — Schweickert on the witness stand, Lorenzo at a defense table — both clad in red jail garb.
For more than an hour, Schweickert testified about everything they’d done together two decades ago. He talked about a “trial run” in which he sexually tortured a man before they let him go. And he described, in graphic detail, the killings of Jason Galehouse and Michael Wachholtz.
He spoke about how he and Lorenzo had fantasized about kidnapping men, keeping them as slaves, torturing them and possibly selling them.
“And if we couldn’t sell them,” he said, “disposing of that individual.”
He was asked what he meant by “dispose.”
“Murder,” he said.
Schweickert, who is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for his role in the killings, was the star witness on the first day of Lorenzo’s penalty hearing. Lorenzo pleaded guilty in December to murder charges. Prosecutors are asking a judge to sentence him to death.
Hillsborough State Attorney Susan Lopez, in an opening statement, quoted some of their words, as memorialized in their AOL chat transcripts. Lorenzo’s chat name was “DomDudeforSub.” Schweickert was “MstrScott.”
“Let’s violate the world,” one wrote. “Let’s bring our fantasies to realities. ... Easy to make them vanish with no link to us in the least. ... I do a chokehold from behind. You hold him down, strap him up, not to be found again.”
With a team of her office’s prosecutors nearby, Lopez told Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher Sabella that the pair sought to “prey on the vulnerability of their victims” and that they wanted to see how far they could take their sinister plan.
“A sentence of death for Mr. Lorenzo is the only appropriate sentence,” Lopez said.
Lorenzo smirked and shook his head at times as Lopez spoke.
“That’s a wonderful story,” he told the judge. “It’s a very dramatic story. But it’s a lie.”
Representing himself, but with a lawyer seated beside him ready to step in if he changes his mind, Lorenzo’s opening statement lasted less than five minutes. He accused prosecutors of twisting the facts of the case, but he said he doesn’t care. He said he wants the death penalty.
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He explained his belief that death row would give him more comfort and privacy than he would have in federal prison. He’s already serving a 200-year federal sentence since his conviction on charges related to the drug-induced sexual assaults of several men.
“I want to do my time my way,” he said.
As the state began its case, they presented testimony from law enforcement officers who investigated the killings, and two men who described being drugged and sexually tortured by Lorenzo.
But it was Schweickert who became the focal point of the day.
Skinny, soft-spoken and slightly slouched, he seemed embarrassed as he recalled the horrors in which he’d participated.
He and Lorenzo met a couple of months before the killings, he said, brought together by a mutual friend who knew of their shared sexual interests. They chatted a few times before meeting in person. Schweickert, who was from Chicago, was living in Orlando then while taking a personal training class.
He recalled their first in-person meeting. It was at Metropolis, a now-defunct gay bar that once stood on Kennedy Boulevard. He said Lorenzo, who’d introduced himself as “Anthony,” brought pictures of submissive men whom he wanted to “take.”
They talked about their interest in kidnapping men. Lorenzo suggested they could hold a man in a small apartment attached to his Seminole Heights home. They discussed doing a “dry run.”
Sometime later, Schweickert said they brought a man back to Lorenzo’s house, where Schweickert engaged in torturous sexual activity. But it stopped after the man cried out in pain. They let him go.
The pair had further chats in which they talked about how well they’d worked together with the man. They talked about buying a cheap piece of land, so they’d have an out-of-the-way place to hold victims without raising suspicions.
Lorenzo suggested looking east of Tampa, near Interstate 4, Schweickert said. He thought it would be easy to find a place there where “screams would not be heard.”
They decided they wanted more.
“We wanted to see if we could go to the next step, if you will, which would be murder,” Schweickert said.
The day they met Galehouse, they’d planned to lure someone else to Lorenzo’s home with the promise of work. Schweickert had someone in mind, but the person stopped responding to calls and emails.
So that night, they went to 2606, a gay nightclub on North Armenia Avenue. Near the 3 a.m. closing time, Lorenzo found Galehouse and introduced him to Schweickert. They took him back to Lorenzo’s home.
Schweickert said he engaged Galehouse in sexual activity while the man was bound to a bed, then left to go to the bathroom. He returned to find Lorenzo choking him. He held down Galehouse’s legs until he stopped moving.
Lorenzo went into “cleanup mode,” Schweickert said, preparing to dispose of Galehouse’s body.
“It just seemed automatic,” Schweickert said. “Like he’d done it before.”
He described how they moved the body to a tarp, carried it to Lorenzo’s garage and went out for an early breakfast. They returned after a stop at Home Depot, where Lorenzo purchased heavy trash bags. In his garage, Lorenzo used an electric saw to cut up Galehouse’s body.
“I held the limbs as he cut them,” Schweickert said.
They bagged the body parts and later drove throughout Tampa, dropping them in garbage bins.
Returning home, Lorenzo napped. Schweickert, sleepless, drank beer.
Lorenzo wanted to see if they could do it again, Schweickert said. So the next night, they returned to 2606, where they met Wachholtz. He agreed to come back to Lorenzo’s home to “party.”
Schweickert distracted him in the kitchen, while Lorenzo mixed GHB, commonly known as a date-rape drug, into a drink.
After a few minutes of conversation, Schweickert left for the bathroom — but returned when he heard Lorenzo yelling.
He found him wrestling Wachholtz on the living room floor, Schweickert said. Wachholtz was shouting: “This is not consensual.”
They subdued him before Lorenzo engaged in sex acts with him.
Schweickert refused to participate in another dismemberment. So Lorenzo told him to grab a sheet from a hallway closet. Doing so, he said, he happened to notice Galehouse’s driver’s license, which Lorenzo had kept.
They wrapped Wachholtz’s body in the sheet, put it in the back of Wachholtz’s Jeep Cherokee and drove it to a West Hillsborough apartment complex, where they abandoned it.
Testimony continues Tuesday.