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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Murder on Facebook and One Man's Claim to Fame...

Almost famous...
Derek Medina wanted fame and fortune.

He would apparently do anything to attain it.  He was a wannabe be actor, who was an extra in a USA's Burn Notice episode, which was filmed in Miami and he played a thug.  He posted over 140 videos of himself on You Tube.  He wrote and self-published six books.  And, like millions of Americans, he openly shared every aspect of his personal and professional life on social media.

But frustrated with his celebrity aspirations, he finally gained some notoriety, if not infamy, by doing the unthinkable; murdering his off-and-then-on-again wife of three years and posting a picture of her lifeless body on Facebook.

In addition, along with the graphic photo, showing the bloody corpse laying on her back on the kitchen floor, with her head propped up against some floor cabinets and her legs discombobulated back towards her head, as if she had been kneeling, with no apparent remorse Medina coldly wrote:
"Im going to prison or death sentence for killing my wife love you guys miss you guys take care Facebook people you will see me in the news my wife was punching me and I am not going to stand anymore with the abuse so I did what I did I hope u understand me"  
Shocked and horrified friends reacted with nothing but, "What?," probably hoping that it wasn't real.

Yet, it wasn't only real.  It was surreal.  In fact, not only did he murder his 26-year-old wife, Jennifer Alfonso, who he married in 2010, got divorced to in 2012 and then remarried a few months later, but he did it while Alfonso's 10-year-old daughter was in an upstairs bedroom, where, according to Alfonso's father, he had apparently left her with the volume of a TV blaring, so she would not hear what he was about to do.

After shooting his wife to death, Medina, 31, changed clothes, drove to his family's house to tell his father and relatives what he had done and then drove himself to the South Miami Police Department and calmly turned himself in.

Police say he confessed to the crime, by saying a scuffle broke out, after she threatened to leave him, where he pulled a gun and she a kitchen knife, which he quickly took away from her and threw in a drawer. Afterwards, he said she continued punching and hitting him, a burly tattooed man, who would film himself beating and kicking a punching bag in a suit and tie, sparring in a kickboxing ring and posted pictures flexing his muscles on Facebook, until he shot her.

As you could imagine, by the time it was finally taken down by the social media site, at least five hours after the fact, the photo had gone viral and it was shared and commented on by countless of friends and strangers alike.  

The day before the murder...
The story, which I first heard about on a police scanner at work, where it is among my duties to listen to scanners for our TV news department, before the South Miami Police Public Information Office knew anything about it, has been on my mind ever since I first saw the horrific photograph and started wondering what our world has come to when a murdered corpse is posted on social media for the universe to see.

Legendary English author and cultural commentator of his time, GK Chesterton, once wrote, "Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere."  Unfortunately, the problem for humanity since the beginning of time has been knowing where to draw that line.

And, in our voyeuristic culture, where self-promotion has become part of the air we breath and people's lives are in full display on social websites, that line, between someone's form of expression and their moral responsibility, was bound to be confounded.

But, I wasn't the only one troubled by the gruesome post.  A court official I contacted as the story developed later in the afternoon wrote me, "Seriously, this story is beyond words."  A co-worker admitted having trouble sleeping that night and another said to me, "This Facebook story is really haunting me."  And, haunting may be the operative word.

I guess, beyond the lack of moral judgement, there's also the issue of respect.  How much respect can someone have for another human being to want to post their dead body on Facebook?  It's a slap in the face, not only to her memory, but to her family, not to mention, her 10-year-old daughter, who someday may find the gruesome image on the internet.  Think about it.  This is the sort of picture you may see in the Middle East, where they kill an "infidel" and post pictures of their mutilated body as a show of disrespect and degradation.

Then again, how much did Medina respect himself by confessing his crime in such a public forum?  It's really hard to imagine.

As a news department, my station decided to blur out some of the gruesome photo.  We considered, not only our audience, but Alfonso's family.  This is not the last image I would want a loved one to be remembered by!

Yet, Medina's family says she drove him to that point.  They claim she was physically abusive, something her family and friends vehemently deny, and that he is not a monster.  In fact, they say he was loving and warmhearted.

Although neighbors called him "strange" and friends of Alfonso said he was jealous, manipulative and aggressive with her, in a Miami Herald article on Sunday, his family's pastor from the Episcopalian chapel at the University of Miami, Rev. Frank Corbishley, who visited the family Friday night, called him a "complex and multidimensional person just like everybody else."  Albeit, one might argue, not everyone would murder a person and post it on Facebook!

Medina was an alter server in his youth but, like many young people, had drifted from his faith and church in his teens.

Happier days...
Somewhere along the line, darkness grew inside him.  He became drawn to the occult and developed an interest in ghosts and the supernatural, which was the topic of one of his books, and a passion he shared with his wife, and, at the risk of sounding crude, maybe, the reason for the haunting photo!

On Saturday, I attended a funeral Mass for the father of a friend, who passed away in his 90's. He lived a long and fruitful life dedicated to his faith and family.

In his homily, the priest talked about how we, who believe in the way, the truth and the life, can hope with a confident certainty that we will be reunited with our loved ones in heaven someday.  It is a hope that helps us overcome the difficulties of life and the loss of people we love.

I couldn't help but think about Jennifer Alfonso and Derek Medina.  As far away from the faith, as they may have been, since dabbling in the supernatural is probably as far away from Christianity and the certainty the Christian faith offers as you can be (although there is no way to know what was in their heart),  I wondered if they have (or had in her case) that confident hope of someday going to heaven?  In other words, is there room for hope in the darkest recesses of the human heart?

Without that hope, what true purpose and meaning is there?  Life becomes but a shadow lost in the shade of a large tree, where it's hard to determine where you're at and where you're heading just by looking at it, and the only thing that matters is the fleeting search for happiness through physical pleasures, fame and fortune in this world.  Of course, physical pleasures, fame and fortune, as Medina sought, is not going to be worth much when we're dead!

It appears, at least, Alfonso's family have that hope since she was given a Christian funeral and buried at a Catholic cemetery.  Still, as Christians, we can only pray that God has mercy on her soul and that, in the upcoming hardship, loneliness and despair that is sure to come, Medina repents and returns to the faith of his childhood.

In any case, we walk a slippery moral slope as a culture when a murdered body is posted on the internet like a trophy of some great accomplishment but, considering the attention the story has gotten, it may just be a matter of time before another person, looking for instant fame, will try to attain it in a similar way...


Jorge Costales said...

I hadn't see that Chesterton quote, "Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere." But, as usual, I think you picked just the right GK quote for this story.

In discussions which you and I have sat through many times, the issue of what it means to judge, I believe, is a source of great confusion. Often, the role of faith is rejected most effectively by quoting Christ's admonition to "judge not, lest thee be judged and that "he that is without the sin, cast the first stone."

I believe the type of judging Christ is referring to is substituting our judgement for matters reserved for God, i.e., I don't think that person will, or should, be forgiven, or determining punishment, etc.

It does not make sense to me that Christ, having given us the ultimate guide in morality, would have intended that we treat that map as too subjective to be discussed in polite society.

So in today's culture "judge not" has come to mean that all beliefs [supernatural, occult etc] are presumed equal in the name of the secular God of fairness.

As such, while we might welcome an argument about where Chesterton's line should be drawn, the culture's lowest common denominator prefers no line at all.

No lines, like no bumpers, have tragic and predictable consequences. On the bright side, I suppose, the culture can be proud of the fact that Mr Medina was not discriminated against, or judged, for his interest in the occult, up until the murder.

Though, God help us, there surely is an Occult group somewhere out there bemoaning the association and begging to be better understood. I deem them to be intentionally or stupidly evil. Those who think that I have tossed the proverbial stone of 'judging' need to look closer. How I handle my judgement as to their beliefs is what defines my Christian walk.

The ability to make a moral determination, i.e. judgment, which even moral pygmies could pull off while eating a sandwich, does not violate Christ's admonition. However, what I do with that judgement could.

Mr Medina may never have had that conversation with anybody or not enough people. Maybe some people didn't want him to think they were judging him.


Carlos Espinosa said...

You're absolutely right, Jorge.
We may not be able to ultimately judge a person, or what's in their heart, but we can judge their actions and try to guide them and speak out for righteousness in order to knock some sense into them. In fact, it would not be Christian of us to allow someone to continue to jeopardize their salvation by continuing to live in a sinful manner without, at least, speaking out...