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Pot Grow Houses in Florida Are Deadly Business

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The radar showed a defect in the ground below the surface, and Oliver used a shovel to dig. About eight inches down, he heard the clang of metal on metal. The dog Piper alerted to the scent of a cadaver. As deputies continued to dig, they realized that the freezer door had come partially open. By now, the scent of death was inescapable. Inside the freezer, wrapped in black plastic, was Febonio's body. He was wearing a white T-shirt and the tan Docker shorts he had left his parents' home in.

Two days after Oliver unearthed the freezer, the Broward Sheriff's Office finally issued a warrant for Alfaro. But it wasn't for murder. He'd failed to appear in court on the grand theft auto charge. And the Broward County State Attorney's Office was also charging him with manufacturing cannabis, a charge spokesman Ron Ishoy says the office is still pursuing. But by that time, Alfaro had left town.

On March 23, a BSO officer located Alfaro's white Infiniti at a used car lot in Tamarac. When service technicians removed the center console, they found a Glock .40-caliber handgun containing a Speer bullet.

The hunt for Alfaro became national news. A&E's show Manhunters featured it. The U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task force tracked Alfaro to Manhattan and then to Newburgh, New York. Each time marshals arrived at a new location, they'd learn that Alfaro had just slipped away, weeks or days ahead of them.

Then on August 25, 2009, almost exactly two years after Stevie Febonio disappeared, a U.S. marshal spotted Alfaro's mother's car in Newburgh. The agent followed her to a house that was no more than a shell, an empty two-story hulk of dangling wires, exposed insulation, and floorless rooms. Alfaro was holed up in the attic. When marshals stormed up the stairs, Alfaro fought so hard that they had to subdue him with a stun gun. On the way out, still kicking, he landed a blow on one of the Manhunters cameramen. Four months later, he was extradited back to Palm Beach County. This time, he stayed in jail.

Stevie called her his "Chicken Little." Now a pretty 40-something brunet, Annmarie Gallien met Stevie in 2003, and she moved from Boston to Florida to be with him. He helped her raise her three kids. He celebrated with her when she bought her first new car, and he consoled her when her sister died. He took the kids to football games and drove them to school. And though they broke up after four years, Stevie remained a close friend. Annmarie says she knew, when she heard he was missing and when the letters he'd been writing her stopped in August 2007, that he was dead. "Stevie would never have given up on our relationship," she says. "I was the love of his life.

"Stevie had an aura to him that would instantly fill any room," Annmarie remembers. "An energy of happiness, his love for life, family, and friends — he adored all of us. His loss is something I'm still trying to cope with."

This troubled, tough kid grew up to be everybody's "best friend" — it was a term he used even for the young man accused of murdering him.

"Stevie was 15 years older; he treated Jose like a son," Eddie Febonio says simply. "He was a good friend to him. This was just a heinous, premeditated crime." The Febonios spent a sad Sunday on February 21 this year commemorating what would have been their son's 48th birthday.

Alfaro, in contrast, seems to have few supporters now, apart from a loyal girlfriend who passionately defends him whenever an internet blog or news article about the murder appears. She uses the screen name Stacy. "This case is going to fall apart when it gets to trial," she wrote on one blog. "Waste of tax payer's money if you ask me."

A Facebook group titled "I Bet I Can Get 1 Million People to Hate Jose Alfaro" has 50 fans.

On January 11, 2010, Jose Alfaro and his public defender pleaded not guilty and asked for a jury trial. Two weeks later, prosecutors indicated they'd seek the death penalty.

A trial date has not been set, but Alfaro had a preliminary court hearing on March 4. Eddie Febonio and Michael Pampillonia were there. Alfaro, mouth set in a grim line, legs shackled, and wearing a prisoner's blue-and-gray uniform, never glanced at them.

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Gail Shepherd
Contact: Gail Shepherd

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