More than seven years after describing for investigators how he watched an associate kill two men and help dispose of the bodies, Scott Schweickert has been charged with first-degree murder.
Schweickert, 47, is serving 40 years in federal prison in Tucson, Ariz., on charges of conspiracy and drug-facilitated violence.
His associate, Steven Lorenzo, 53, is serving 200 years in a Virginia federal penitentiary on drug charges in the December 2003 deaths of Michael Waccholtz and Jason Galehouse as well as the drug-induced torture of seven victims who survived.
For nearly nine years, victims' families and friends have pleaded with the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office to bring murder charges, saying the federal drug convictions are not enough. All along, State Attorney Mark Ober has said the case was being investigated.
Today, Galehouse's mother, Pam Williams, said she was glad Schweickert was charged with murder. "The only problem is it's gone on way too long," she said. "It should have happened a lot sooner. I'm just glad it's finally in motion."
"We never lost sight or stopped investigating this," said Ober's spokesman Mark Cox. He wouldn't comment further on why the charges took so long.
Williams said she was contacted last week by Tampa Police Det. Charles Massucci about the pending charges. Then, earlier this week, she had a conference call with prosecutors and Ober. She said they told her "step-by-step" what would happen next.
Even Lorenzo has expressed impatience.
In a Nov. 27, 2005, letter to News Channel 8, he wrote: "I fully anticipate and encourage the filing of these pending charges. The obvious delay by the authorities has not been in the best interest of all concerned."
Still, Lorenzo has not been charged with murder.
One reason Schweickert may be facing charges first is the detailed statements he gave investigators describing the crimes. For a while, Ober said the case was on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed a Florida Supreme Court decision that found flaws in a form used by Tampa Police when investigators questioned Schweickert. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state's high court in February 2010.
The evidence against Lorenzo is more circumstantial.
Williams said Ober assured her Lorenzo would be charged after Schweickert's case is done.
"They told me I had to just be patient because it takes up to two years to get a trial," she said. Referring to Lorenzo, Ober told her, "We're not through with him yet."
Lorenzo and Schweickert were depicted during federal trials in 2005 and 2007 as kindred spirits in a sadomasochistic subculture, centered on fantasies of kidnapping, drugging and sexual torture that turned into a horrific reality.
In the words of a federal prosecutor, the pair teamed up for a "weekend of carnage" that claimed the lives of the two victims. Lorenzo was convicted of slipping the date-rape drug GHB into the drinks of men he'd lured to his home. According to trial evidence, he then sexually tortured them.
Schweickert, who lived in the Chicago area, linked up with Lorenzo, who lived in Seminole Heights, and the two lured Galehouse and Wachholtz to Lorenzo's home on West Powhatan Avenue on successive nights, according to testimony in their federal drug trials.
Wachholtz's decomposed body was found two weeks later in his jeep in an apartment complex. Galehouse's remains were never found. Schweickert ultimately told investigators he and Lorenzo dismembered Galehouse and dumped the parts in garbage bins around the city.
Brian Winfield, of Equality Florida, a gay rights organization, has advocated for murder prosecutions in the case for years.
The charges against Schweickert, he said, are "fantastic. It's been a long time coming, but … I think its really important that the state of Florida take the step to find justice for the families, because as of today, Scott Schweickert and Seven Lorenzo have gotten away with murder."
The cases went unsolved for nearly two years.
In May 2005, detectives were looking for answers into the disappearances. Lorenzo had been indicted on federal charges of drugging and torturing seven other men, and investigators hoped to link him to Galehouse and Wachholtz.
They found transcripts of Internet chats between Schweickert and Lorenzo where the two talked about torturing unsuspecting men and making them disappear.
Schweickert flew to Tampa to testify before a federal grand jury after he was subpoenaed.
Before and after his grand jury testimony, police detectives pressed for answers about what had happened, according to records, reports and evidence in the trials.
At first, he denied knowing anything. Then his story began to change. In front of the grand jury, he testified he saw Lorenzo kill one of the victims with a chokehold and then helped him move the body outside to a trailer.
After that, he said in the grand jury testimony, he left Tampa.
After his testimony was over, detectives bought him lunch and started talking again. The conversation went on for hours until the federal courthouse closed. Then they all walked to the Tampa Police Station, where the interview was recorded.
The detectives asked questions. They cajoled. They confronted him with inconsistencies. They urged him to come clean. They told him his life was on the line. A few times, the conversation grew intense.
Eventually, Schweickert said he helped Lorenzo kill both men. He talked in detail about how he and Lorenzo dismembered Galehouse and put the parts in trash bags that were disposed of around the city.
Lorenzo, Schweickert said, "got a good little chuckle" out of dumping one of Galehouse's body parts behind a church.