Marci Craig waited anxiously at the airport in Ohio to pick up her older brother Steve for Christmas, but he never got off the plane.
Wondering if there was a car accident, Craig and her sister called the police to find out if Steve and his partner, Kevin Powell, even got on the plane in the first place. They hadn’t. No one answered any phone calls at home, and Craig gave the Wilton Manors police authority to break into the couple’s home, where the lights were on, but the shades were drawn, and the doors were locked.
In the wee hours of the morning of Dec. 26, 2010, police discovered the couple’s bodies in their home, dead from gunshot wounds and head trauma.
“We were just devastated,” Craig said. “By 8 a.m., we were on a flight to Fort Lauderdale and it felt like forever to get down there.”
More than two years later, an arrest has been made, their home was put up for sale, and their names have dropped off from the newspapers.
“It’s in the prosecutor’s hands now,” Vicki Thompson, Powell’s mother, told SFGN, not wanting to comment further on the case.
But the story of these two men who loved each other until the day their lives were taken began decades before.
Steve Adams, 52 at his death, was born in Michigan and grew up in Ohio as the oldest of four children. Craig said her brother was a good listener and known for putting himself before others – making nursing a perfect profession for him. When his partner of 29 years, Kevin Powell, had a kidney and pancreas transplant six months before his murder, Adams nursed him to health.
“He took care of people he didn’t even know,” Craig said. “That was just his nature as a nurse. When Kevin had his transplant, Steve was off work that whole time and stayed by his side.”
Powell was born when his mother was a teenager, and he was adopted by a minister and his wife in Wyoming. With an eye for design, he worked in interior design and creating storefront displays. At 18, he met Adams at a gay pride parade in Ohio – the two were together until their lives were taken from them almost 30 years later.
“I always thought they got along really well and they seemed always happy and that’s all I wanted, was for my brother to be happy and so we were happy for them,” Craig said.
Suffering from diabetes since his childhood, Powell became interested in his biological family to find out more about his disease. It was an endeavor since the adoption papers were closed, but while fidgeting with his old baby bracelet, the nametag slipped out and he discovered his mother’s maiden name on the back. He got in touch with his biological family, living in Claxton, Ga., and met them for lunch in Jacksonville, Fla.
Shannon Kicklighter, his younger biological brother, remembers knowing it was him instantly because he looked just like his older brother, Anthony. He was also pleasantly surprised to find out his long-lost brother was gay, just like him.
“To have a birth brother not brought up together and to be gay, it was very symbolic for our family and thank God my mother and father brought us up to be very open,” Kicklighter said.
That Christmas, Powell and Adams invited the Kicklighters to their home in Ohio. From there, Kicklighter wound up living with them for five years. In his early 20s and just out of a bad relationship, he says he was able to bond with his brother and learn how to be in a healthy gay relationship.
“They were very good at communicating,” he said. “They were just really kindhearted, always getting involved with helping people.”
Kicklighter eventually moved to Florida and met his partner, Chris. Adams and Powell followed soon after. Shortly before the couple’s death, Powell posted a strange Facebook profile picture, where he appeared to have bruises on his face – something out of character for the normally well-groomed man. Kicklighter also noted he misspelled his sibling’s names on his page.
Then came Christmas Eve, the day police believe that the couple was killed. Craig and her sister waited for Adams at the airport the next day, not knowing he was never coming. Their bodies were found the morning of Dec. 26 and police noted that their vehicle was missing.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested Peter Avsenew, then 26, in Dundee County, Florida, for a violation of probation he had committed while in Monroe County. The next day, they executed a search warrant at his home for the Wilton Manors murder. According to the Sun Sentinel, Avsenew told his mother that he “had done something really bad,” and “they got what they deserved.” He also said he threw a gun into a lake.
Avsenew now sits in Broward County Jail on two counts of murder, two counts of robbery with a firearm, possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, credit card fraud, and grand theft auto. The trial date is now set for June of 2013, but the Adams, Powells and Kicklighters have grown accustomed to that date being postponed over and over again. State Attorney prosecutor Shari Tate told SFGN that it’s not abnormal for a case like this to take even three or four years.
But according to Robert Wills, one of the public defenders assigned to the case, it has taken so long because the defense asked for but has not received all the information they are entitled to. For example, they asked for the victims’ computer hard drives to be turned over to them in October of 2011, and just received the evidence two weeks ago. Wills said since the victims met the defendant over the Internet, they want to see what other acquaintances the victims may have known. Wills also noted that while it normally does not take this long for hard drive to be turned over, the State just notified the defense of a new witness only last week.
Several theories have surrounded the murder. One that it was a hook up gone wrong and another that Avsenew moved in with the couple to help out around the house. Somehow a disagreement led to Avsenew allegedly shooting the couple to death.
“My family brought up so many scenarios,” Kicklighter said. “It’s kind of one of those things you’ll never actually know what was going on.”
Kicklighter and his partner, who were living in Georgia at the time of the murders, moved back down to Fort Lauderdale in May 2012 to be closer to the case. If a trial date is set, they want to be ready to go. He has photo albums of his siblings, including ones with the big brother he never met until he was 23, but one who would teach him lessons he’d use for the rest of his life.
For now, the families of the men – ones they’d grown up with their whole lives and others who were reunited later – wait for news from police and the legal system for something to happen. Craig and her family each have teddy bears made from one of Adams’ nursing scrubs, including the buttons and his embroidered name.
“There’s no closure. We want justice… our faith is strong and we believe that God is guiding us through this storm,” Craig said. “ murdered my brother and he murdered Kevin. I just want justice to prevail.”Christiana Lilly