More than five years after Florida State University law professor Dan Markel was gunned down in the driveway of his home, two key players in what prosecutors believe was a plot hatched by the academic’s former in-laws to get him out of the picture are set to stand trial.
Jury selection is slated to begin Monday in a Tallahassee court in the case against Sigfredo Garcia—who stands accused of pulling the trigger and murdering Markel—and Katherine Magbanua, the mother of Garcia’s children and ex-girlfriend of Markel’s former brother-in-law Charlie Adelson. The defendants are being tried together on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy and solicitation to commit murder.
Prosecutors believe that Magbanua served as the conduit between Garcia and Luis Rivera, a Miami gang member who pleaded guilty in 2016 to helping Garcia pull off the hit, and Charlie Adelson, the brother of Markel’s ex-wife Wendi Adelson.
Police have said they believe that Charlie Adelson and his mother, Donna Adelson, ordered the hit in order to help Wendi Adelson relocate to South Florida from Tallahassee with the couple’s two sons to be closer to the Adelson family, which runs a dental clinic outside of Fort Lauderdale, but they are not charged. Members of the Adelson family, as well Magbanua and Garcia, have steadfastly maintained that they had nothing to do with Markel’s death.
Attorneys for Magbanua and Garcia did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Charlie Adelson’s attorney, David Oscar Markus, said Thursday that there is no crime for which to indict his client.
“For five years, the state has picked through every piece of Charlie’s life—every phone call, every email message, every text, every relationship, every possible witness—looking for any excuse to charge him,” Markus said. “But there is nothing there.”
The case featuring members of a prominent and wealthy family allegedly conspiring to kill a promising academic amid a bitter divorce, with two Miami-area men allegedly driving up to Tallahassee in a rented Prius to complete the job, has been picked apart on multiple television shows as well as a popular recent podcast. But for close watchers of the case, several big questions remain:
First, they wonder whether the trial will come to fruition, or whether Magbanua will take a plea deal at the last minute and cooperate with the prosecution to implicate Donna and Charlie Adelson—neither of whom have been charged with any crime.
Police arrested Magbanua in 2016 and she has spent the past three years in jail—away from her two children—apparently in an attempt to get her to flip and help prosecutors.
“I certainly continue to hope that Magbanua and Garcia will see the wisdom of cooperating with the prosecutors,” said Jason Solomon, a friend of Markel’s who maintains a Facebook group called Justice for Dan that tracks developments in the case. “Because I think if they go to trial, they will most certainly be convicted.”
Second, they want to know whether Garcia and Magbanua’s trial is the next step toward indictments of Donna and Charlie Adelson—which Markel’s supporters view as the ultimate goal and the only way for justice to be served.
“My sense is that the prosecutors have just been waiting,” Solomon. “They only get one shot at prosecuting the people who ordered the hit. They are waiting until they have the maximum possible evidence, which would be testimony from Katie. There could come a point where she’s convicted and she could still flip.”
What is clear is that the case against Magbanua and Garcia is complex, and the circumstances around Markel’s murder are convoluted. Attorneys have said they expect the trial to last several weeks, and they have spent months wrangling over evidence. More recently, attorneys have haggled over witnesses: In June, the judge hearing the case ordered Wendi Adelson to be deposed by the defense—reversing an earlier decision to protect her from questioning. Prosecutors have not indicted that Wendi was involved in the murder.
Markel—who was a rising star in the legal academy, due in part to founding PrawfsBlawg—was shot in the head in his driveway on July 19, 2014, and died the following day. He and Wendi Adelson had divorced in 2012 but were still wrangling in court over their two children at the time. Dan had recently asked a judge to prohibit Donna Adelson from having unsupervised visitation with the couple’s boys on the grounds that she was saying disparaging things about him in their presence. (Wendi Adelson has since changed the boys’ last name to Adelson from Markel, and Dan Markel’s parents have not seen the boys in more than three years.)
The case seemed to have gone cold until 2016, when police arrested Garcia and Rivera. They used toll booth camera footage to track the duo’s journey from Miami to Tallahassee in a light- colored Prius, a lead provided by a witness on the day of the shooting. They also had surveillance footage of the Prius tailing Markel the morning he was killed.
Rivera, a member of the Latin Kings gang, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in October of 2016 and received a seven-year sentence to be served in addition to a 12-year prison sentence that he is currently serving on unrelated charges. He told police that Garcia pulled the trigger and that Magbanua was involved in the plot—for which they were to be paid $100,000—but could not identify the source of the money.
That remains the crux of the matter, as Solomon sees it.
“I have faith in the police department and state attorney’s office that they will ultimately indict Donna and Charlie Adelson, with as much evidence as they have,” he said. “Not just for people like me who know and care about Dan and his boys, but I just think this is an important test for our legal system. Can rich people get away with murder just by paying other people to take the fall?”