WEST PALM BEACH -- For five years, Edwin Febonio has been waiting for his son’s murderer to be brought to justice.
When a jury Tuesday convicted former Parkland pot-grower Jose Alfaro of second-degree murder for shooting Stephen Febonio in the back of the head, stuffing his body in a freezer and burying it in a Delray Beach yard, the dead man’s 78-year-old father wiped tears from his eyes and hugged one of his son’s lifelong friends.
“I’m real happy,” the elder Febonio, a retired Peabody, Mass., police officer, said outside the courtroom.
Alfaro, who bragged about his lucrative marijuana grow-house business but insisted he wasn’t a murderer when he testified in his defense, showed no emotion as Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies slapped on the handcuffs to take him back to jail. Attorney Michael Cohen said he was glad his 31-year-old client avoided a first-degree murder conviction.
“You’re never satisfied with a guilty verdict,” he said. But the jury’s decision may mean Alfaro could one day walk free, he said.
Prosecutors Aleathea McRoberts and Cheryl Caracuzzo said they are hoping he doesn’t. They said they will ask Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Richard Oftedal to send Alfaro to prison for life when he is sentenced Jan. 2.
Further, they said, because the jury found Alfaro guilty of using a firearm to kill Febonio, he will spend at least 25 years in prison with no ability to earn gain time. If he gets a life sentence, he will die in prison because Florida abolished parole more than 20 years ago.
“We’re satisfied we did the right thing,” McRoberts said.
The 2007 murder confounded sheriff’s detectives for two years. A note Febonio, 45, left with his parents before his disappearance provided clues but no proof of his murder. If he disappeared, he told them to contact federal agents.
He stumbled onto Alfaro’s marijuana operation when he did construction work for him. Febonio threatened to tell police about the enterprise if Alfaro didn’t pay him the $10,000 he was owed.
Eventually, some of those involved in the operation began cooperating with sheriff’s Detective Sean Oliver. The detective found Febonio’s body in a freezer buried in the backyard of a house Alfaro rented in Delray Beach. Alfaro fled to New York, where he was arrested.
During his testimony last week, Alfaro turned the tables on his accusers. He claimed an “associate” who helped Oliver build the case against him was the trigger man. He claimed the associate, Doc Morrow, shot Febonio in Alfaro’s Parkland home. At the time, he said he was at a friend’s house smoking pot.
Prosecutors challenged Alfaro’s claims, pointing out that he had never denied his involvement, much less fingered Morrow. Why, they asked, didn’t he tell investigators if he was innocent?
Alfaro responded: “If I’m going to tell anybody it’s going to be a jury. I’m not going to cooperate with law enforcement.”
Cohen claimed the prosecutors violated Alfaro’s constitutional rights by putting his client in the position of having to prove his innocence.
Alfaro also faces federal charges for stealing a man’s identity, which he used to get a passport. He tried to use it to flee to Costa Rica, but authorities there denied him entry.
In the meantime, Edwin Febonio said he was anxious to tell his wife that their son’s killer had been convicted. While he attended every day of the weeklong trial, he said he purposely didn’t look at some of the more grisly evidence of his son’s murder.
“I want to remember him the way he was,” he said.