Playing With Fire

Only one man is set to stand trial for a grisly murder seven years ago – but if he's guilty, did he really act alone?

Lichtenberg's medium is ink on skin. He also does custom body piercing, such as putting holes in women's backs so they can thread leather or lace through their skin corset-style.

Lichtenberg, about five-foot-eight, has an intricate red rose on his left hand flanked by delicate green leaves, with Mom written in swirly script inside the flower. His knuckles spell out Side Show. He likes the circus, he says. But the first thing you might notice about this 26-year-old is his forehead. He has horns. Implants allow him to swap out the horns when he feels like wearing little studs there instead, and on this day, he'd chosen a beige pair of studs. In both ears, he wore inch-wide silver hoops that stretched his lower lobes.

"The first time I met him, he immediately put me off," says Shelly Hall, who works at New Times and has been good friends with Lichtenberg for four years. "He has horns; he has tattoos. But after the second, third time I met him, I felt so badly that I had gotten that impression, because he's the nicest, kindest, most generous guy I know."

Burned electrical wires removed from Collins' neck.
PHOTOS FROM INVESTIGATIVE FILE
Burned electrical wires removed from Collins' neck.

He is not, however, especially talkative at Tattoo Blues, at least not about Collins' death, although he is on the witness list for both the prosecution and the defense in Rao's upcoming trial.

"Somebody I was friends with maybe got caught up in something bad," he says. "I tried to help the police. And every time I tried to help them, they pointed it further in my direction. So I stopped helping them."

Hall says Lichtenberg has talked to her about Collins' killing, though not at any real length or depth. "He's just said that he knew somebody that he worked with when he was 19 who got killed and that he knew the guy who got arrested for it. Everybody in our group of friends knows about it. It's not a secret, but it's not something we ever really talk about."

At a recent pretrial deposition, Lichtenberg asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer any questions under oath about Collins' death. But at Tattoo Blues, amid the inks and drills, he does offer this insight:

"If I had something to do with it, I'd be in jail right now."

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