The 2 former U.S. Military troopers met in Ukraine, the place they joined the identical far-right paramilitary group. After getting deported, they deliberate to take a ship from Miami to South America. They wished to struggle the socialist Venezuelan authorities and kill “communists.”
That’s what Alex Zwiefelhofer advised the FBI agent and police detectives who questioned him concerning the deadly capturing of a Florida couple in April 2018. Federal authorities imagine Zwiefelhofer and fellow Military veteran Craig Lang organized the lethal theft of Serafin and Deana Lorenzo to finance the Venezuela journey.
Practically two years after the killings, Zwiefelhofer, 22, is awaiting trial in Fort Myers, Florida, on federal costs punishable by a loss of life sentence, whereas Lang, 29, faces the identical costs as he fights his extradition from Ukraine, the place he married a lady final yr and is now below home arrest. Certainly one of his attorneys has stated it may take years for the extradition case to be resolved.
Within the U.S., authorities painting Lang and Zwiefelhofer as cold-blooded killers. In Ukraine, a protection lawyer blames the U.S. authorities for not doing extra to assist Lang and different veterans adapt to life off the battlefield.
“The man was just searching for a spot on the world map to catch a bullet and die,” Lang’s lawyer, Dmytro Morhun, advised The Related Press. “But he has found a new life, a new love, a new family” in Ukraine, Morhun stated.
Lang, a North Carolina native, was discharged from the Military in 2014. Zwiefelhofer, a Wisconsin native, was discharged in 2018 after going absent with out go away in September 2016.
The 2 met in Ukraine in 2016. Zwiefelhofer advised authorities that he and Lang joined Proper Sector, an ultranationalist group combating Russia-backed separatists. Proper-wing volunteer battalions performed a key function within the separatist battle that erupted in 2014 in jap Ukraine after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The combating attracted hundreds of volunteers from the U.S. and Europe. Some overseas combatants had been pushed by white supremacist ideology, however troopers who served with Lang in Ukraine stated they by no means heard him categorical any racist or extremist views.
A girl who fought alongside Lang in Ukraine described him as “calm and reasonable” however stated he had private issues linked to a divorce and baby custody battle. “He went to fight in Ukraine because he had no other place to go,” stated the girl, who requested to be recognized solely by her first identify, Elena, for safety causes.
In 2017, Zwiefelhofer and Lang traveled to Africa however had been detained by Kenyan authorities after they tried to enter South Sudan. They finally had been deported to the U.S.
Brian Boyenger, a veteran of the U.S. Military’s 101st Airborne Division, stated he spent a couple of months with Lang on the entrance traces in Ukraine.
“He conducted himself as a disciplined and professional soldier,” Boyenger wrote in a Fb message. “The things he is accused of were a surprise to me.”
On the night time of April 9, 2018, the sheriff’s workplace in Lee County, Florida, obtained 911 calls reporting gunfire in the neighborhood of Estero. Deputies searched the realm however didn’t discover any signal of a capturing.
Eight hours later, deputies responding to a different 911 name discovered a crimson truck riddled with bullet holes. Serafin “Danny” Lorenzo Jr., 53, was shot seven instances. Deana Lorenzo, 51, had 11 bullet wounds.
Investigators decided the Lorenzos withdrew $3,000 in money and drove greater than two hours from their Brooksville, Florida, residence to purchase weapons from someone itemizing them on the market on an internet site known as Armslist. The vendor, “Jeremy,” advised them to fulfill at a church in Estero. “I’m at the church,” Serafin Lorenzo wrote in his final textual content message.
Investigators used cellphone information and social media messages to hyperlink the suspects to the killings.
Google information confirmed Zwiefelhofer’s on-line searches included the phrase “How to Smuggle Myself to South America,” an FBI agent stated in an affidavit. Zwiefelhofer additionally looked for video of a film scene that depicted shooters ambushing a automobile utilizing the identical ways employed by the gunmen who attacked the Lozenzos’ truck, the agent stated.
An unidentified “associate” of Lang’s advised detectives that that they had traveled to Bogota, Colombia, a number of months after the Florida shootings, in accordance with the FBI agent’s affidavit. Lang joined a Venezuelan resistance group that had a protected home within the mountains of Cucuta, Colombia, close to the Venezuelan border, stated the affiliate, who advised investigators he left Lang in Bogota.
Zwiefelhofer was arrested in Wisconsin in Might. He admitted to touring to Florida with Lang in April 2018 however denied going to the realm the place the Lozenzos had been killed, the FBI agent’s affidavit stated.
Zwiefelhofer pleaded not responsible in December to costs associated to the theft and killings and the alleged plot to struggle the Venezuelan authorities. His trial is about for August.
Lang doesn’t have an extradition trial date. Morhun, his lawyer, stated his consumer would attraction if the Ukrainian basic prosecutor’s workplace approves Lang’s extradition. If that fails, Morhun stated he would ask the European Court docket of Human Rights to overview the case. He argues that Lang shouldn’t be extradited as a result of he may face capital punishment, which Ukraine abolished twenty years in the past.
Lang may style freedom in Ukraine earlier than he sees a jail cell within the U.S. His legal professionals deliberate to ask a court docket this month to cut back his home arrest to “nighttime house arrest.”
Kunzelman reported from School Park, Maryland. Karmanau reported from Minsk, Belarus. Related Press reporters Lolita Baldor in Washington and Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.