DEATH ON FACEBOOK

Before the Facebook slaying: a lifetime of being ignored

 

ebenn@MiamiHerald.com

Derek Medina had a lot to say, and a lot of showing off to do. But no one seemed to listen, and no one took notice.

Until Medina, 31, forced the world to pay attention.

The South Miami man, who documented much of his life with online photos and videos, posted on Facebook a ghastly picture of his wife, Jennifer Alfonso, 26, shot dead on their kitchen floor on Aug. 8.

“Facebook people you’ll see me in the news,” Medina posted to his 164 Internet friends.

By the time the site removed the bloody, disturbing photo several hours later, hundreds had shared it, thousands more had viewed it, and Medina — in police custody after turning himself in — finally had people talking about him.

“I don’t know what was up with all the Facebook and YouTube stuff, it was all too much,” said Joe, an acquaintance who met Medina and Alfonso through mutual friends and said he didn’t want his last name published because of possible repercussions to his family. “I finally had to take him off my Facebook page. He’s just a very strange person.”

Medina, shackled and wearing a red inmate jumpsuit, sat in silence during a brief court hearing Friday, when his attorneys asked a Miami-Dade judge for permission to photograph him in jail. They likely are looking for cuts, bruises and other signs that could back self-defense claims by Medina, who wrote on Facebook after the killing that Alfonso “was punching me and I’m not going to stand anymore with the abuse so I did what I did.”

Medina’s father, Derek Ian Medina, said his son, who is 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, was “scared” of Alfonso, who was slender and stood about 5-foot-7. The father said she “pushed him to the point of insanity.”

The younger Medina told police that the shooting happened after a heated argument during which Alfonso said she was leaving him. He also said he recently installed a video-security system in their home that should have captured the incident.

Denny’s waitress

If Alfonso had a violent side, it wasn’t apparent to her co-workers and regular customers at Denny’s on South Dixie Highway in Coral Gables, where she worked an 11 p.m.-to-7 a.m. shift most weekends.

“We would say, ‘Let’s go see Jennifer,’ not, ‘Let’s go to Denny’s,’” said Louis Schwartz, who sat in Alfonso’s section two or three times a week with his wife or his 89-year-old mother, ordering build-your-own Grand Slam meals. “She had a certain glow to her. A beautiful person. She really loved her daughter and always talked about her family.”

Isabella, Alfonso’s 10-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, was upstairs in the home when Medina allegedly shot her mother six to eight times on the kitchen floor. Medina left Isabella in the townhouse, alone with her dead mother, when he went to tell his father and police what happened; investigators said the girl was uninjured when they found her.

It is unclear if Isabella will live with her father, whose first name is Gabriel, or with Alfonso’s mother and stepfather, Carolyn and Rohan Knox.

Alfonso seemed happy lately in her relationship with Medina, according to her friends, family and fellow servers. They originally met when Medina was a customer at Alfonso’s old Denny’s, on Bird Road near 87th Avenue. She spoke of their date nights together, and her husband sometimes came into the restaurant to pick her up after a shift.

That’s what Medina was doing on June 23, when Miami Heat guard Ray Allen and a few pals were finishing up at the Coral Gables Denny’s shortly after sunrise. Medina, dressed in a suit for his job at a Coral Gables condominium complex, shook the athlete’s hand and posted a wobbly, 14-second video of the encounter on his YouTube page.

“I was standing next to Jennifer when she did the video,” Schwartz said. “Derek loves Ray Allen. That was a real treat for him.”

In the video, Medina is hamming it up with Allen by the restaurant’s cash register — where a framed memorial photo of Alfonso now hangs.

Rapid romance

Medina graduated from Coral Gables High in 2001, and Alfonso went to South Dade High until Isabella was born, said her mom. The teenage mom then transferred to COPE Center, a school and daycare for young mothers, but left when she was unhappy with the care Isabella was receiving, Carolyn Knox said. Alfonso earned her GED last year.

They married in January 2010 after a brief, intense courtship. The marriage was stormy at first, with Medina sometimes kicking out Alfonso. Other times, she showed up to work with bruises, said her former boss, Amada Cooper.

They divorced in February 2012, then remarried three months later.

Medina was the one who filed for divorce. Although the case file is thin and cites only irreconcilable differences, a judge awarded Medina the couple’s major assets: a 2006 Hummer, a 1972 AMC Javelin muscle car, and a piece of property Medina owns in Tampa. The paperwork was served to Alfonso at work at Denny’s on Bird Road.

Medina bought their two-bedroom South Miami townhouse, at 5555 SW 67th Ave. in the Miller 67 complex, for $107,000 in March 2012, during their short divorce.

In a strange coincidence, Alfonso’s maternal grandmother was shot to death in a 1986 murder-suicide in a 67th Avenue apartment less than two miles from where Medina and Alfonso lived. Manuel Alvarez drove from Texas to Miami to shoot ex-wife Mercedes Alvarez in the chest before turning the gun on himself. Alfonso was born 10 months after her grandmother’s slaying.

Medina and Alfonso shared an interest in ghosts and the supernatural, which took them on ghost-seeking trips to Louisiana, among other places.

“I knew this guy got Jenny into ghost-hunting and UFO-searching and stuff like that,” said her brother, David Alfonso, 27. “The guy is eccentric, and I just wish he would have shot himself after murdering my sister.”

Ghost stories are one of many topics Medina touched on in a series of e-books he wrote in recent months. With long-winded titles like How a Judgmental and Selfish Attitude is Destroying the World We Live in Because the World is Vanishing Beneath Our Eyes, the self-published self-help books were promoted on Medina’s website, emotionalwriter.com.

But his books, like the rest of Medina’s online persona, were largely ignored.

Few people, if any, appeared to pony up $9.99 for the downloads. How a Judgmental and Selfish Attitude… is ranked 1,160,157th in sales on barnesandnoble.com. His titles had no reader reviews, until prank ones began showing up after Aug. 8.

Macho persona

It’s a similar story on Medina’s Facebook account, which the social network site has deleted, where he was a heavy poster but had only 164 friends. A Pew Center study this year found that the average Facebook user has 245 friends; highly active users often have many more.

Medina also failed to achieve popularity on YouTube, where he had more self-posted videos — 143 — than viewers, until the killing of his wife.

Most of the videos show a young man trying very hard to be macho: revving the engine of the red ’72 Javelin, attempting billiards trick shots, hitting baseballs in a batting cage, playing shoot-’em-up video games and making 10 basketball shots in a row. Others show him running track races, playing beer pong and driving golf balls. One clip shows Medina calling La Gorce Country Club in Miami Beach to protest its November ouster of Michael Jordan for violating the club’s no-cargo-shorts policy. The call was sent to voicemail.

A 25-second snippet, posted two days before Alfonso’s killing, features Medina, dressed in a black suit and tie, grinning while kickboxing a heavy bag. That video, Work hard play hard part2, has garnered about 100,000 views since Aug. 8.

Medina claimed to be an experienced martial-arts fighter when he went to a class years ago at Freestyle Fighting Academy in West Miami-Dade, gym co-owner Marcos Avellan said.

When an instructor tried to correct his fighting stance, Medina “took offense and challenged the instructor to a fight,” Avellan said. Medina lost.

“Derek started shouting that the instructor ‘cheated’ and that he wanted a rematch. The instructor asked him to leave and never return,” Avellan said.

After the incident, Medina posted a series of videos on YouTube where he staged a re-creation of the class fight.

“He then went as far as to buy a title belt and even engraved the name of the instructor on the belt, claiming he was awarded the belt for defeating the instructor,” the gym owner said. “It is because of these crazy videos that I remember him by name to this day. He was definitely off his rocker.”

Off-putting videos were also part of what caused Medina’s former pal Joe to pull away from their relationship. Joe recalled a time a few years ago when he was playing in an adult-league softball game that Medina was not a part of.

“The next day or whatever, Derek posts a video on Facebook of people playing softball, and — guess what? — it was us,” Joe said. “We didn’t even know he was filming us. That was creepy.”

But what Joe said really pushed him away from Medina was an incident one recent summer at the Mayhem Festival, a heavy-metal concert in West Palm Beach. Someone accidentally spilled beer on Alfonso, and Medina reacted by pulling out a handgun.

“That was like, ‘What the heck, man?’ ” Joe said. “None of us knew he had a gun. I don’t even think his wife knew. At that point, I was like, ‘This is it. I’m not dealing with this guy anymore.’ ”

Self-help guru

Medina’s aggressive, brooding, gun-wielding side stands in stark contrast to the self-help author who refers to himself as “Emotional Writer” and has filmed himself in a car singing along to Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone. After appearing for a few seconds in a non-speaking role in an episode of USA Network’s Burn Notice, which filmed in Miami, Medina took to calling himself an actor.

“He’s a complex, multidimensional person,” said the Rev. Frank Corbishley, pastor at St. Bede Episcopal Church in Coral Gables, where Medina and his family are longtime congregants.

Medina is scheduled to be arraigned in Miami-Dade County Criminal Court on Aug. 29, which is when he is expected to enter a not-guilty plea. Meanwhile, his family and Alfonso’s will continue to ask what happened, what went wrong, on Aug. 8, when an on-again, off-again relationship ended in a public, tragic way.

A memorial page on Facebook for Alfonso includes condolences from people who knew her as well as strangers all over the world. It also includes dozens of photos of her in happy times — with her brother and two sisters, with her mom, with friends at Denny’s — but none with Medina.

Photos of the couple live on at the Facebook page for the Coral Gables Senior High Class of 2001, which has dozens of images from the group’s 10-year reunion at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in 2011.

One photo shows Medina and Alfonso smiling at the camera — him in a black jacket, red tie and sideways-cocked black hat, and her in a black top, black skirt and green army jacket. In another, their lips are locked in a kiss.

In a third and final photo, Medina and Alfonso are sitting alone on a couch in a corner of the room. She is looking at him with a raised eyebrow. He is leaning away and holding a smartphone, focusing its camera on Alfonso’s face.

Miami Herald reporters David Ovalle and Gustavo Solis contributed to this report.

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