It looks like the murder trial of Jose Alfaro, charged with the premeditated, first-degree murder of his friend Steve Febonio, is gearing up to be a cliff-hanger. This month, state prosecutors told West Palm Beach Judge Amy Smith that they are seeking the death penalty for Alfaro, accused of murdering his friend over a dispute involving a $10,000 debt and stuffing his body into a freezer. The freezer was unearthed in the yard of a Delray Beach grow house last spring: Witnesses told police Alfaro had used the residence as a marijuana grow house.
Evidently spooked by the possibility of a death sentence and forced to supply his DNA at the request of prosecutors, Alfaro has ditched public defender Elizabeth Ramsey and hired Fort Lauderdale criminal attorney Michael B. Cohen to defend him.
Cohen appears to be a rather freighted choice for Alfaro. Although Cohen has worked as Broward assistant state attorney and assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, he also defended "Turnpike Killer" and drug-runner Ricardo Sanchez last year. In that case, which involved the execution of Luis and Yessica Escobedo and their two very young children, the attorney argued against the reliability of "circumstantial evidence." It's an argument that may come in handy in the Alfaro trial -- although in the Sanchez case it wasn't enough to convince the jury, which voted unanimously to give him the death penalty, the first such vote since 1988.
We spoke to Cohen by phone today, and predictably, the attorney couldn't tell us much about the details of the Alfaro case. "I just got involved a couple of weeks ago," he said. "I stepped in for the public defender, and it's very early on in the case to make any comment." Cohen did note that with more than 50 witnesses in the case and with so many depositions to take, it could take "a long time" before they're ready to go to trial.