TAMPA — For a pair of slayings that struck fear in the LGBTQ community and horrified the Tampa Bay area almost 20 years ago, Steven Lorenzo should be executed, a judge ruled Friday.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher Sabella’s sentence came two weeks after a penalty hearing in which prosecutors recounted how Jason Galehouse and Michael Wachholtz were sexually tortured and murdered in Lorenzo’s Seminole Heights home.
Sabella, in a brief sentencing hearing Friday morning, echoed the words of Galehouse’s mother, Pam Williams, when she testified earlier this month.
“From one Italian to another, Ti condonno a morte,” Sabella said. “That translates to, I sentence you, Mr. Lorenzo, to death. That is the punishment that you deserve for these horrific crimes.”
Lorenzo, who for six years has consistently represented himself in court, reiterated that he wanted the death penalty.
“As far as I see it, it’s euthanasia,” he said. “Everybody in this room has a death sentence. And I’m going to try to speed up this process so I don’t have to wait 15 years.”
He professed a belief that a life isolated in a death row cell will give him more privacy and comfort than life in federal prison. Lorenzo was sentenced in 2006 to 200 years in federal prison, but has been in the Hillsborough County jail for the last five years while his state murder case was pending.
The sooner he can be put to death, Lorenzo said, the sooner he can be reincarnated in a new body. He also thanked prosecutors for their professionalism.
“In this lifetime, I’m the bad guy and you’re the good guy,” he said. “Maybe in the next lifetime, the roles will be reversed.”
Sabella told Lorenzo he wasn’t sure if his embrace of capital punishment was a form of reverse psychology.
“Nor do I care,” the judge said. “I will not consider what you want in issuing my sentence.”
Lorenzo, 64, made a surprise guilty plea in December to two counts of first-degree murder. He also announced that he did not want a jury to decide his fate, nor did he want to present evidence or testimony that might weigh against capital punishment.
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The judge, after assessing that Lorenzo’s decision was made intelligently and voluntarily, accepted his guilty plea. In a two-day penalty hearing earlier this month, prosecutors presented a deluge of evidence of what happened to Galehouse and Wachholtz when the men disappeared on back-to-back nights in December 2003 after they visited the same Tampa gay nightclub.
Key testimony came from Scott Schweickert, who carries a life sentence for his role in their murders. On the witness stand, Schweickert described a depraved fantasy born in online chats and later made into reality in Lorenzo’s home, in which they wanted to kidnap, enslave and sexually torture unwitting gay men. When they tired of their victims, Schweickert said, they planned to either sell the men or kill them.
Schweickert spoke in detail how both men were lured to Lorenzo’s home, where they were tortured and killed.
The pair moved Galehouse’s body to Lorenzo’s garage, where they used an electric saw to dismember him. They placed the body parts in bags and later deposited them in trash bins throughout Tampa. His remains were never found.
They placed Wachholtz’s body in the back of his Jeep Cherokee and drove it to an apartment complex in west Hillsborough County, where they abandoned it.
DNA from both men was on items investigators later found in searches of Lorenzo’s home and garage. Also found were pictures of men, bound and battered. One showed Wachholtz, lying unconscious on Lorenzo’s living room floor.
The killings, the contemporaneous disappearances of other men in the Tampa Bay area, and the emergence of several others who told of being drugged and sexually assaulted, raised fears at the time of a serial killer preying on the gay community.
Lorenzo was first charged and found guilty in federal court with using GHB, a date-rape drug, to facilitate crimes of violence. Victims included other men he assaulted, along with Galehouse and Wachholtz.
But it took years for state prosecutors to build enough evidence to bring murder charges.
Although Lorenzo chose not to argue against a death sentence, Judge Sabella’s 40-page sentencing order references information prepared by lawyers designated to step in if Lorenzo decided he no longer wanted to represent himself.
The information included reports from a doctor who found that Lorenzo suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder, exhibited “hypersexuality after a traumatic brain injury” and showed signs of fetal alcohol disorder. There was also evidence that Lorenzo suffered abuse as a child and in some of his adult relationships.
The judge found some of the information believable, but concluded it did not weigh significantly against a death sentence.
Representatives of the LGBTQ community, along with Galehouse’s friends, attended Friday’s sentencing. They spoke of closure but had lingering questions about Lorenzo.
“I think Lorenzo lives in Lorenzo’s own mind,” said Tyler Butler, a friend of Galehouse’s. “The mind of a monster.”