Bessman Okafor verdict: Jury recommends death in resentencing trial for convicted murderer

By a vote of 9 to 3, a Florida jury recommended the death penalty for Bessman Okafor in his resentencing trial.

Okafor was convicted in the 2012 murder of 19-year-old Alex Zaldivar, who was scheduled to serve as a witness in Okafor’s home invasion trial. He was previously sentenced to death in 2015. However, that sentence was later overturned by the Florida Supreme Court because the vote was not unanimous, as there was one dissenter among the 12 jurors.

Gov. DeSantis subsequently approved the new law that eliminated the need for a unanimous vote, and that resulted in Okafor's resentencing trial.

A jury had been seated in October, but the judge presiding over the resentencing declared a mistrial after a juror reportedly had a conversation with a friend about the case.  Kayla De Pena, 26, admitted to lying to the court during a hearing on Jan. 24. She was handcuffed and taken to jail, charged with contempt of court.

The family of Alex Zaldivar and state prosecutors say they're happy the jury voted to recommend the death penalty, but they had hoped it would be a unanimous decision.

Rafael Zaldivar, Alex's dad, says he is concerned state rules on the death penalty verdicts could change again, and they will be back in court again.


"I have dedicated the rest of my life to my son," said Zaldivar, "I feel bad for his mother, brother, cousins - they have to go through this."

RELATED: Judge declares mistrial in resentencing trial for convicted Florida killer after juror speaks about case

During the resentencing trial, the defense argued there was not enough evidence to show Bessman Okafor was responsible for the deadly shooting.

As Okafor was led out of the courtroom, he appeared to smile and nod at his aunt.


She says she feels bad for the Zaldivar family but hopes this is not the end.

"I feel so sorry for the deceased's family. I feel so bad for them, but they are holding the wrong person," Adaure Onokala.

A judge still has a final say about the death penalty recommendation.  Okafor is expected back in court in April.