Orlando murderer's death sentence appealed to Supreme Court

Bessman Okafor convicted of fatally shooting Alex Zaldivar in 2012

Bessman Okafor.
Bessman Okafor.

An Orlando man who in 2015 was convicted of murder for shooting a would-be witness execution-style appealed his death sentence Wednesday to the Florida Supreme Court.

Bessman Okafor fatally shot Alex Zaldivar, 19, in 2012 because Zaldivar was going to testify against him in a home invasion case. Okafor also shot two other witnesses, for which he was convicted on two counts of attempted first-degree murder.

Okafor and co-defendant Nolan Bernard were found guilty of burglary, robbery and aggravated assault with a firearm in that case.

Dean Mosley, Okafor's attorney, announced that he would be attempting to get his client off death row after the Florida Supreme Court ruled the state's death penalty unconstitutional in January 2016. Justices ruled judges had too much power in the decision, and juries didn't have enough power.

The Florida House will soon hear a bill that would require a death sentence to be a unanimous jury vote. Jurors voted 11-1 in favor of sentencing Okafor to death. 

Okafor was not present in court during the hearing Wednesday morning. Attorney Valarie Linnen argued that the guilty conviction and penalty against Okafor should be reversed, because she said the evidence against him was circumstantial at best.

She said a magazine clip that was shown during the trial, even though it was not used in the murder, was prejudicial and confusing to the jury.

Assistant state attorney Vivian Singelton said that text messages Okafor sent before the murder and a Google search for "how to remove gun shot residue" proved that he planned his crime in advance.

A decision in Okafor's appeal has not yet been made.

Okafor was sentenced to life in prison for his other charges. He's been incarcerated since 2013. He's currently housed at the Florida State Prison in Raiford.


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