It’s been 3-1/2 years since deputies discovered the murdered body of Stephen Febonio stuffed inside a locked freezer, buried about 6 feet beneath yucca plants in the yard of a Delray Beach marijuana growhouse.
Twelve Palm Beach County jurors and two alternates on Friday will begin hearing testimony in the trial of Jose Javier Alfaro, a former Deerfield Beach man accused of shooting Febonio in the back of the head in August 2007 over a $10,000 debt involving the construction of a Parkland pot growhouse.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys spent Wednesday and Thursday picking the jury for the first-degree murder case, once featured by two national television programs: “America’s Most Wanted” and “Manhunters: Fugitive Task Force.”
Authorities say the evidence shows Alfaro, 31, is solely responsible for killing Febonio, 45, and hiding the body in the freezer — where it stayed concealed until March 2009.
Alfaro, who at one time rented the Rainberry Lake home in Delray Beach where the freezer was unearthed, has been in custody since his August 2009 capture by U.S. Marshals at an upstate New York apartment.
Defense attorney Michael B. Cohen declined to discuss the arguments he plans to present to the jury, seated in Circuit Judge Richard Oftedal’s courtroom.
Alfaro and Febonio had been friends from their days of working together in local auto body shops, beginning in 2003. Alfaro was a paint sprayer and Febonio did bodywork. Febonio had treated Alfaro like a younger brother, sometimes bringing him to lunch at Febonio’s parents’ home west of Boynton Beach.
But Edwin and Margaret Febonio told investigators they last saw their son Aug. 24, 2007 when he left their home in a car with Alfaro. When interviewed by a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office detective six weeks later, Alfaro said he dropped Febonio off at a Boynton Beach gym the day he disappeared.
When asked why he referred to Febonio in the past tense, Alfaro said his friend was a drug addict who sometimes vanished.
“He was missing so long, he won’t be walking through any doors,” Alfaro told the detectives.
Yet detectives reported they later learned cell phone records contradicted Alfaro’s story, tracing Alfaro and Febonio to Parkland on the same day. At that time, Alfaro rented a home used as a growhouse in the 7700 block of Northwest 124th Terrace in the Heron Bay community, according to court documents.
Alfaro possessed guns and made a living in the pot-growing business, detectives said. He owed friends thousands of dollars and promised to double their investments when the crops came in.
Febonio’s friends told detectives that Alfaro owed Febonio money for helping to build and maintain the pot-growing operation at the Parkland property.
When Alfaro didn’t pay, Febonio threatened to go to the Drug Enforcement Administration. That’s when Alfaro planned the murder, bought the freezer, and shot Febonio, according to court documents.
Alfaro then started threatening and acting violently toward his friends and involved others by storing the freezer — with Febonio’s body — in their homes. He told them the freezer, often secured with tie downs, contained deer meat.
But Alfaro’s associates turned on him later, according to the documents, talking to investigators about Alfaro’s suspicious behavior after Febonio’s disappearance. One close friend said that Alfaro buried the freezer with the body because it was “encased in solid ice” and couldn’t be removed without waiting a long time to “defrost” it.
Alfaro was arrested in Newburgh, N.Y., where he was living with his mother. He fled there after learning about the discovery of the freezer with Febonio’s body, Sheriff’s Office officials said. He was extradited to Palm Beach County in December 2009 to face the murder charge.
Edwin Febonio, a retired police officer, said Thursday his family has been waiting five long years since his son’s death for the trial.
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