Florida Supreme Court overturns death sentence for Bessman Okafor

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Convicted killer Bessman Okafor is no longer on death row.

Okafor was sentenced to death by a jury and judge in November 2015 for the killing of Alex Zaldivar, 19, and wounding two others during an Ocoee home invasion in 2012. The three were set to testify against Okafor in a separate home invasion case before the killing.

However, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the death sentence on Thursday because the jury did not come to an unanimous verdict.

"Actually, it was something that I expected all the way," said Rafael Zaldivar, Alex's father. "Those are the new laws in Florida and it has to be a 12-0 and unfortunately, his case was 11 to 1, and we have to follow whatever the law says."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that Florida’s death penalty was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to the judges and not enough power to the jurors. The state Legislature has since passed a law that requires jurors to reach a unanimous decision in death penalty cases.

Thursday’s decision by the Florida Supreme Court means Okafor’s attorneys can ask for new sentencing proceedings, and a new jury will have to decide if he’ll be sentenced to life in prison or death.

However Orange-Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala has said she doesn't plan to seek the death penalty in any cases while she's in office. That decision forced Gov. Rick Scott to assign 23 death penalty cases to State Attorney Brad King.

Following the Florida Supreme Court ruling, Scott issued an executive order assigning the Okafor case to King.

"Here we are and it's something that we have to deal with right now and we just want to get it over with, bring him back and give him another death penalty phase and get that 12-0 and send him back to death row," Zaldivar said.

State Attorney Ayala said in a statement: "I am very pleased that Bessman Okafor’s conviction for his horrific crimes was upheld today by the Supreme Court of Florida.

"Florida’s High Court was tasked with attempting to resolve the chaos surrounding Florida’s death penalty statute after being stricken down by the United States Supreme Court early last year.

"I am not surprised by the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling nor the Governors’ hasty reaction."