State, defense rest in Ocoee home invasion case



OCOEE, Fla. - Closing arguments will begin Wednesday in the Orange County home-invasion trial for defendants Bessman Okafor and Nolan Bernard.

The two are accused of bursting into an Ocoee home and tying up and robbing the people in the house.

All sides rested their cases Tuesday, after only an hour in session.

Both defense teams called Ocoee Police Officer Dewey Mullan back to the witness stand and tried to convince the jury that there were inconsistencies in his testimony.

Okafor's attorney asked about Mullan's testimony last week that the victims told him at one point that the gunmen were wearing masks.

That testimony conflicts with the descriptions the victims reportedly gave to police, including that Okafor had hash marks shaved into his eyebrow.

"You testified that all the witnesses told you that the home invaders on May 9th, 2012, at 503 Bernardino Drive, Ocoee, Florida, wore masks during that crime," a defense attorney asked Mullan.

"Yes sir, I said that. One of them, or all of them, they were all standing together crowded around me," said Mullan.

Mullan later clarified that one victim said one of the gunmen briefly lifted his T-shirt over his face, but then needed both hands for the gun and the victim, and he dropped the shirt.

Bernard's lawyer had the officer measure Bernard's height to show he was shorter than the victims described him.

WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said the defense moves backfired.

"If there were inconsistencies, the defense certainly cleared that up for the jury by calling the officer back to the stand and allowing him to clear it up for them," said Sheaffer.

Prosecutors said the two were caught within an hour of the 2012 home invasion. They said the men had the victims' stolen property, including the iPhone that helped police find them.

Ocoee police said the reason they were able to catch the suspects so quickly is because one of the victims showed them his iPhone tracker app.

Will Harrington used an officer's phone to track his iPhone, which pinpointed the location of the suspects.

Police said they found that stolen iPhone in Bernard's pocket.

The judge told the jury that they should expect to begin deliberations by noon Wednesday.

On Monday, jurors got a look at the guns found in what prosecutors said was the getaway car used to speed away from the home invasion.

The defendants were making an issue out of the way the Ocoee Police Department got the four home invasion victims to identify the suspects. They did not do a photo lineup or a live lineup.

The Ocoee police sergeant who helped with what they call a "show up," where the victims are taken to the suspects right after they're taken into custody to identify them, explained the method is preferred when suspects are caught close to the time of the crime.

The jury also got its first look at Okafor and Bernard as they looked right after the home invasion, which is how the victims described them: Okafor's shaved eyebrow and Bernard's cornrows.

Prosecutors said Okafor later killed one of the victims, Alex Zaldivar, to keep him from testifying in the trial.

Zaldivar was set to testify in the home-invasion trial, which was originally scheduled to begin on Sept. 11, 2012. But the 19-year-old was shot and killed in a home invasion during the early morning hours of Sept. 10, 2012.

His two roommates, Brienna Campos and Remington Campos, who are also witnesses, were shot but survived.

Investigators said Okafor shot the witnesses in order to keep them from testifying. He's been charged with Zaldivar's death and two counts of attempted murder. The murder trial isn't expected to take place until late 2014.

Okafor and Bernard decided against taking the stand on Tuesday before their defense teams rested.

Closing arguments are set to begin Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.