Second man goes on trial in gay deaths

Scott Schweickert is accused of helping drug two gay men before their deaths in 2003.

Published January 8, 2007

TAMPA - It has been three years since a passer-by spotted a body wrapped in a sheet in the back of a Jeep Cherokee parked in a remote area of a Town 'N Country apartment complex.

The gruesome discovery of Michael Wachholtz's body, and the revelation that Jason Galehouse, another young gay man, had vanished near the same time, touched off one of the most sensational murder investigations in recent memory.

Today, the man accused of helping drug Galehouse and Wachholtz will stand trial in U.S. District Court. Scott Schweickert, 41, is charged with conspiracy and assisting in a drug-facilitated crime of violence.

Schweickert's alleged conspirator, Steven Lorenzo, was found guilty in November 2005 of nine counts of administering GHB, a central nervous system depressant, with the intent of committing violence. He was sentenced to 200 years in prison.

Lorenzo's trial featured chilling pictures of men, bound and naked, lying on the floor of his Seminole Heights bungalow. Seven men offered emotional testimony of being drugged and assaulted by Lorenzo.

At Lorenzo's sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Richard Lazzara said that nothing in his 35-year legal career had prepared him for the evidence and testimony presented at the trial. He said he was "shellshocked" by the gruesome images.

Focus on statements

Schweickert's trial will be different in that there won't be testimony from victims. Instead, prosecutors will rely on statements Schweickert made to authorities and the grand jury.

Wachholtz, of Tampa, and Galehouse, of Sarasota, disappeared the weekend of Dec. 19, 2003.

Schweickert told investigators that Lorenzo persuaded him to help cut up Galehouse's body and dump it in trash bins around the city. According to court testimony, Schweickert even showed investigators where the body parts had been stashed.

Schweickert said Lorenzo killed Wachholtz the following night.

Schweickert's attorney, Pedro Amador, asked U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday on Thursday to throw out those statements because his client wasn't given a lawyer when he asked for one. But Merryday declined, saying there was no evidence Schweickert requested a lawyer.

There are still several issues for Merryday to decide after the jury is selected today, including whether prosecutors can display pictures and videos collected from Lorenzo's home.

Amador argued the pictures are so disturbing they could unfairly prejudice the jury. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Porcelli said they are relevant to the government's case.

Lorenzo is expected to make at least a brief appearance during Schweickert's trial but invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.

Activists watching

Schweickert is a native of Peru, Ill., a small town about 100 miles west of Chicago. One of 13 children, he earned two bachelor's degrees from Illinois State University, in Normal, Ill.

His Tampa arrest was not his first brush with the law.

In 1998, Schweickert pleaded guilty to aggravated battery, a felony, in McLean County Circuit Court.

He was sentenced to 30 months probation and served six months in jail, state records show.

According to court records, Schweickert asked an ISU student to work on his computer, then confronted him with a pair of black handcuffs and a gun. The man tried to flee, and Schweickert pistol-whipped him in the back of the head, records show. The man escaped but needed stitches.

Schweickert's federal trial will be closely watched by local gay rights advocates, who have expressed frustration with the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office for failing to file murder charges against Lorenzo and Schweickert.

"While we are confident that these guys are behind bars - and likely will be for a long time - we still believe that it is appropriate that they be brought to trial for murder," said Brian Winfield, a spokesman for Equality Florida.

Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said the case is a "very active pending investigation."

Carrie Weimar can be reached at 813 226-3416 or cweimar@sptimes.com.