After 8 years, high profile Orange County death penalty case remains in limbo

Changes in state death penalty laws delay decision in Bessman Okafor’s case

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The fate of convicted murder Bessman Okafor remains unclear due to the changes in Florida’s death penalty law.

Okafor was set to have a second chance at life at a re-sentencing hearing March 9, however, with the death penalty law currently in limbo at the state Supreme Court, a judge has ruled to continue the case until further notice.

In 2015, a jury voted 11-1 to sentence Okafor to death for the murder of Alex Zaldivar.

“It’s time to move on, send his butt back to death row, that’s it,” the victim’s father, Rafael Zaldivar, said.

Two years after his sentencing, the state Supreme Court overturned the death sentence, giving Okafor a chance at life. However, after yet another ruling by a new Florida Supreme Court this year, they ruled a unanimous jury should not be required to sentenced someone to death.

Due to the back and forth, Judge Julie O’Kane Monday ruled to continue Okafor’s re-sentencing hearing. It wasn’t quite a win for prosecutors, who wanted to stop the re-sentencing hearing altogether.

“A stay means it can’t go forward and everything stops,” Prosecutor Ryan Williams said. “Continuance means the work continues to happen it’s just not going to re-sentencing right away.”

Prosecutors filed the motion to stay because they believe the Supreme Court could ultimately re-instate Okafor’s death sentence.

Rafael Zaldivar doesn't want to go through the trial of a re-sentencing again.

“It’s like opening our guts again,” Zadivar said, adding he hopes the re-sentencing hearing never happens. “It’s like showing our son’s picture again on the floor, on the ground with his hands behind his back, in a pool of blood, we don’t want to see that.”

O’Kane did not rule to stop the proceedings altogether because she says she needs a directive from the state Supreme Court to allow her to move forward.

“The only way that I do anything different from what the Florida Supreme Court has told me to do, is if the Florida Supreme Court tells me to do something different,” O’Kane told the state.

State prosecutors plan to file that motion at the Supreme Court level immediately and hope to have that directive by the end of the week.

“I think it will be granted by the Supreme Court and there will be a stay and then we will just have to wait and see what happens with the litigation as a whole,” Williams said.

About the Author:

Nadeen Yanes joined News 6 as a general assignment reporter in 2016. She grew up in Leesburg and graduated from the University of Florida. Nadeen has won three Associated Press Awards for her reporting on the Pulse Nightclub shooting, the trial of the Pulse gunman's wife and the capture of an accused cop killer, Markeith Loyd.