The jury twice eyed the freezer chest where murder victim Stephen Febonio was entombed, then convicted former Parkland pot grower Jose Javier Alfaro of the crime.
The 31-year-old Alfaro, who had testified that a drug associate carried out the August 2007 killing, did not visibly react as the 12-member jury announced its verdict Monday afternoon.
Alfaro’s second-degree murder with a firearm conviction, reached after eight hours of deliberation that started Friday, carries a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life in prison. Sentencing is set for Jan. 2.
Last week, Alfaro thanked Circuit Judge Richard Oftedal for a fair trial. But just prior to the verdict announcement, defense attorney Michael B. Cohen moved for a mistrial on the grounds that prosecutors had improperly shifted the burden of proving guilt from the prosecution to the defense.
“I’m not comfortable dealing with it right now,” Oftedal said of the defense’s motion, adding that he shared some of the same concerns and will order a trial transcript.
Retired police officer Edwin Febonio expressed relief for the justice his family has waited for since his son’s life abruptly ended more than five years ago.
“We are glad we lived to see the end,” Febonio, 79, said after calling his wife Margaret with the news. “I can relax for awhile.”
Prosecutors, who had sought a first-degree conviction, said they were pleased with the verdict.
“We’re very satisfied, for them especially,” said Assistant State Attorney Aleathea McRoberts, after kissing and hugging Febonio.
During the six-day trial, prosecutors argued Alfaro executed Febonio, 45, of west Boynton Beach, in cold blood with a shot to the back of the head.
They told the jury that the motive was a $10,000 debt owed by Alfaro to Febonio, and Febonio’s threat to inform the Drug Enforcement Administration about Alfaro’s marijuana growhouse empire in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Febonio’s decomposed body was found in March 2009, wrapped in plastic and stuffed in a freezer — unplugged and partially filled with sand — that sheriff’s detectives excavated from the yard of a Delray Beach single-family house once leased by Alfaro.
Prosecutors told the jury that Alfaro purchased the appliance from BrandsMart two days after Febonio’s parents reported seeing him for the last time. Investigators said Alfaro kept Febonio’s remains frozen — telling some people that it contained deer meat.
Assistant State Attorney Cheryl Caracuzzo and McRoberts displayed the white freezer in the courtroom, rolling it in on a cart and holding the lid open for the jury’s inspection. During their deliberations, the jury asked to see it again.
Alfaro testified that he bought the freezer for one reason, to keep his marijuana plants fresh for his customers.
Breaking a silence since his arrest by federal marshals in upstate New York in August 2009, Alfaro said a growhouse partner named Doctor Travis Morrow killed Febonio in an act of self-defense at Alfaro’s home in Parkland’s Heron Bay community.
Alfaro said he was out with a friend relaxing and smoking weed and came home to discover Febonio in a puddle of blood in his garage. Morrow cleaned up the mess, he said.
Alfaro told the jury the murder happened after Febonio pistol-whipped Morrow and demanded access to $600,000 in cash, when Morrow fired his weapon at Febonio.
The prosecution contended that there was no proof Febonio was killed in the garage, and Morrow didn’t know Febonio.
Morrow, whom detectives did not label a suspect, testified for the prosecution that Alfaro told him he killed Febonio.
But during cross examination, Morrow said, “I didn’t go to police because I didn’t think he did it.”
Defense attorney Cohen, in his closing arguments, said the state’s case was “loaded with reasonable doubt” and a reliance on statements by convicted criminals.
He described Febonio and Alfaro as having a close friendship that was more like a father-son relationship, but blamed Febonio’s own actions for his death. Cohen also had urged the jury not to be biased against Alfaro because of his illegal marijuana business.
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