Advocates for vanished men expect charges

A talk with prosecutors leaves a gay rights group confident murder cases are being planned against two longtime suspects.

Published January 5, 2006

TAMPA - Their faces still haunt their families. Their friends still hold out hope that killers will be brought to justice. But two years after Jason Galehouse and Michael Wachholtz disappeared, the two men investigators think killed them still have not been charged with murder.

On Wednesday, local gay rights advocates said that could change soon. Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober told Equality Florida members his office intends to file murder charges against Steven Lorenzo and Scott Schweickert, said Equality Florida spokesman Brian Winfield.

Members of the gay rights group discussed the cases with Ober in his office for about two hours.

"We walked away with the expectation that charges would be forthcoming," Winfield said. "I'm convinced that he (Ober) is completely committed to pursuing this case to the full extent of the law."

State Attorney's Office spokeswoman Pam Bondi declined to comment.

Galehouse, 26, and Wachholtz, 26, disappeared the weekend of Dec. 19-20 in 2003.

In November, a federal jury found Lorenzo, 46, guilty of nine counts of administering GHB, a depressant, with the intent of committing violence. The charges included the drugging and torturing of Galehouse, of Sarasota, and Wachholtz, of Tampa. Lorenzo was also convicted of conspiring with Schweickert to distribute GHB.

Lorenzo could face up to 20 years on each federal charge and is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 27.

Schweickert, 40, was named as a co-conspirator in federal documents and is expected to go to trial on similar federal charges next month.

When suspicions about Lorenzo and Schweickert's involvement in Galehouse and Wachholtz's disappearances first arose, many in the gay community, including Winfield, worried that investigators were dragging their feet because the victims were gay.

Now, Winfield said, he feels confident the State Attorney's Office is acting aggressively on the case.

Prosecutors will likely wait until the conclusion of Schweickert's trial in federal court before moving forward.

They also want to be sure they have all the evidence before filing formal charges, Winfield said.