In the weeks before Bessman Okafor was slated to go to trial in a May home-invasion robbery in Ocoee, records show, his mother harassed the witnesses in that case and tried to persuade them to drop the charges.
On the eve of the trial last week, armed gunmen once again stormed the house on Bernadino Drive and, one by one, shot its three occupants in the head — killing a 19-year-old man and wounding a 20-year-old woman.
Both were scheduled to testify against Okafor the next day.
New information indicates the deadly home invasion Sept. 10 was not coincidence, but that the witnesses to the first crime were targeted and meant to be killed.
"The suspects asked if they were the 'ones who got robbed before' and specifically asked where 'the other two were,' " records show. "This was a reference to two victims from a previous home invasion that were not home during this incident."
Investigators have not charged anyone with the Sept. 10 slaying of Alex Zaldivar and the attempts to kill 20-year-old Brienna Campos and her 23-year-old brother, Remington.
Okafor, who was out on bond while awaiting trial in the May home invasion, was being monitored by a radio-frequency device as a condition of his pretrial release. In the early-morning hours Sept. 10, records show, he was away from home at the same time the home invasion and slaying occurred.
He was rearrested a day after the shooting for violating his curfew but has not been charged in connection to the Sept. 10 home invasion.
But police records obtained by the Orlando Sentinel show that since the deadly incident last week, investigators have arrested two of Okafor's family members.
Okafor's mother, 52-year-old Catalina Cynthia Ruffin-Sinclair, was picked up by Orlando police Tuesday afternoon on one count of tampering with a witness, a first-degree felony.
Detectives asked that Ruffin-Sinclair be held without bond, but Orange County Judge Jerry Brewer granted her $5,000 bail. She has since been freed from the Orange County Jail.
Records show Ruffin-Sinclair went to the victim's home twice and introduced herself as "Cathy," a mother of one of the suspects. She offered cash and/or a car in exchange for dropping the charges, but the victims refused both times, according to police records.
On June 14, another woman showed up at the home and made the same offer. That time the victims called 911. Ocoee police responded but didn't take a report, records show. The victims in the May home invasion told detectives they were never threatened with violence if they testified.
Zaldivar's father, Rafael, said he has met with the Joint Homicide Investigation Team, the multijurisdiction team working on the case. He said he is upset that the law allows judges to grant bond in cases such as Okafor's.
"They are the law enforcers, not the lawmakers," Rafael Zaldivar said of the police investigation. "The laws need to be revisited and fixed."
Last week, Orlando police pulled over Okafor's cousin, 24-year-old Idoreyin Ruffin, at Windsor Cove Apartments on Mercy Drive for running a stop sign.
Investigators think Ruffin is linked to the Sept. 10 home invasion, records show, but he refused to go voluntarily to the Police Department or allow the car to be searched. Officers released Ruffin but impounded the car because it's thought to have been used in a "capital felony" Sept. 10, according to police records.
A warrant was obtained to search the car, and investigators said they found a loaded .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun under the driver's seat. Ruffin, a convicted felon in a 2006 burglary case, was arrested the next day, charged with possessing the gun.
Detectives asked for no bond because "Ruffin, and other members of his family, are suspected of being involved in a conspiracy to commit a capital felony," records show.
But a judge granted him $4,000 bail. Ruffin has since bonded out of jail and is on home confinement.
Okafor, 28, and co-defendant Nolan Bernard, 27, both felons, are charged with burglary with a firearm, robbery with a firearm, false imprisonment with a weapon and aggravated assault with a firearm in the May home invasion.
They are both facing the possibility of life in prison if convicted. That trial has been postponed until at least Oct. 15.
Editor note: An earlier version of this article misidentified the Orange County judge who granted Catalina Cynthia Ruffin-Sinclair bail. Orange County Judge Jerry Brewer is one of three judges who preside over first-appearance hearings at the Orange County Jail, and granted Ruffin-Sinclair $5,000 bail. Court records obtained by the Orlando Sentinel indicate Orange County Judge Julie H. O'Kane is the judge on the case. The order was signed by Brewer, but his name was not printed on the document.
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