Orange-Osceola State Attorney Jeff Ashton will assist in the prosecution of Bessman Okafor, a home invasion defendant who was accused last year of slaying a witness expected to testify against him, Ashton's office confirmed.
According to Chief Assistant/Executive Director Richard Wallsh, Ashton will assist Assistant State Attorney Jim Altman, a veteran homicide prosecutor and trial unit director in the State Attorney's Office.
Authorities allege that on the eve of his September trial date in a May 2012 home invasion in Ocoee, Okafor, 28, and two other men broke into the same house again, shooting three people inside.
Alex Zaldivar, 19, and Brienna Campos, 20, were slated to testify against Okafor and his co-defendant in the home invasion. But police say Okafor — who was on home confinement monitoring — returned to the home with two others to execute the witnesses.
Zaldivar was killed, but Campos and her brother, 23-year-old Remington, survived gunshots to their heads. The case sparked scandal and an overhaul of the confinement program.
Okafor and co-defendants Emmaneul Wallace, 27, and Donnell Godfrey, 25, are charged with first-degree murder. Trial in that case is expected late next year. Okafor is expected to stand trial in the original home invasion next month.
"As of now, the state attorney does not plan to be involved in the home invasion case," Wallsh said Monday.
During his successful election campaign last year, Ashton faulted his predecessor for not personally prosecuting cases. The Okafor case is the third case Ashton has decided to take on in recent weeks.
Last month, Ashton said he would prosecute the case against an Orlando man accused of killing a motorist after firing shots at police during a high-speed chase.
Ashton also intends to personally prosecute four defendants in a recent spate of Osceola County shootings that resulted in two deaths.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun