Man Convicted in Murder of Law Professor Locked in Family Feud

Man Convicted in Murder of Law Professor Locked in Family FeudMIAMI — The killing shook Florida's capital and stunned the international legal community: A prominent law professor locked in a rancorous battle with his ex-wife and in-laws was gunned down in his garage, in what prosecutors depicted as a murder-for-hire plot.State prosecutors charged three people with the murder of the professor, Dan Markel, hoping to pressure them into revealing whoever may have financed the murder.Two of the accused, Sigfredo Garcia and Katherine Magbanua, maintained their innocence and went to trial late last month, five years after the professor's death. Over 11 days, the case played out inside a courtroom in Tallahassee, the state capital, revealing a web of tumultuous relationships around Markel's murder.On Friday, a jury found Garcia, 37, guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and not guilty of solicitation of murder. He faces the death penalty, and sentencing will begin Monday.After more than 11 hours of deliberation, jurors told Judge James C. Hankinson that they were unable to reach a verdict on the same charges against Magbanua, 35. Hankinson declared a mistrial.The other man charged with the murder, Luis Rivera, a close friend of Garcia and a former leader of the North Miami Latin Kings gang, cooperated with law enforcement. In exchange for testifying against Garcia and Magbanua, Rivera, 36, was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder and avoid the death penalty. He received a 19-year sentence instead, and is concurrently serving a 12-year sentence in an unrelated federal racketeering case.After a contentious divorce in 2013, Markel, 41, a professor at the Florida State University College of Law who had helped build a network of online legal scholarship, and his ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, were given joint custody of their two young sons.Prosecutors argued that Markel was murdered because a court order prevented Adelson from relocating to South Florida with the children. They said her brother and mother then got involved, and arranged for Magbanua, Garcia and Rivera to carry out the murder for $100,000."What enemy or enemies had Mr. Markel made that set into motion such a brutal act?" Georgia Cappleman, the lead prosecutor in the case, asked during closing arguments Thursday. "The answer: his own family."Markel was shot twice in the head on the morning of July 18, 2014, shortly after he pulled his car into the garage — his keys were still in the ignition. A neighbor thought he heard a gunshot and saw a light-colored Toyota Prius drive away.From cellphone records and surveillance footage, investigators determined that a light green Prius had followed Markel the morning he was killed. They found that Rivera had rented the Prius in Miami. On the rental contract, Rivera listed cellphone numbers for himself and Garcia, his best friend since childhood.Toll transponder data showed the Prius making the 450-mile-plus trip from Miami to Tallahassee and returning after the murder. That night, the men stopped at a drive-through ATM in South Florida, where they were photographed with Rivera behind the wheel and Garcia in the passenger seat.Finding Rivera and then Garcia led investigators to Magbanua, with whom Garcia has two children and an on-again-off-again relationship. At the time of the murder, the couple was broken up, and Magbanua was dating Charles Adelson, Adelson's brother and Markel's former brother-in-law.Magbanua did part-time clerical work at a Miami Beach dental office where she met Adelson, 42, a periodontist.Her finances improved considerably after Markel's murder. Bank records showed she began receiving regular checks from a different dental practice, owned by Adelson's parents in Broward County. The checks were handwritten and signed by Adelson's mother, Donna Adelson.Two assistants who worked at the practice testified that they did not know Magbanua to be an employee. A few months after the murder, Magbanua paid a plastic surgeon $4,000 in cash for breast implant surgery.In April 2016, police tapped the cellphones of Garcia, Magbanua, Charles Adelson and Donna Adelson. To get them to talk to one another, an undercover FBI agent posed as a member of the Latin Kings gang and asked Donna Adelson for more compensation for the family of Rivera, who was in prison. Garcia was arrested the following month, and Magbanua some months later.None of the Adelsons have been charged. For years, as Markel's sensational murder has been dissected in news articles, blog posts, a popular true-crime podcast and episodes of "Dateline" and "20/20," lawyers for the Adelsons have maintained their innocence.Donna Adelson, 69, had figured prominently in her daughter's divorce. About a year before the murder, she suggested that her daughter pretend the couple's sons had converted to Catholicism — Markel was an observant Jew — to pressure Markel to agree to the children's relocation. Donna Adelson also floated offering Markel $1 million to allow the move.The day of the shooting, the police brought in Wendi Adelson, 40, a former clinical law professor at Florida State, to tell her what had happened to her ex-husband. She cried and buried her face in her hands, according to police video of the interview. She also mentioned that her brother, after buying her a television as a divorce present, had joked, "I looked into a hiring a hit man and it was cheaper to get you this TV.""But he would never," Adelson added. "It's such a horrible thing to say."Wendi Adelson testified at the trial that she had no knowledge of the murder. She moved her sons to South Florida a few days after Markel was killed.Magbanua took the rare step of testifying in her own defense. She said she began receiving the checks from the Adelsons after she asked Charles Adelson to hire her as his assistant — a favor so she could qualify for state health insurance for her children. The money for her surgery, she added, had been saved up from cash tips she made working in nightclubs.Magbanua denied any part in the murder but said she believed that Charles Adelson was involved. Her defense lawyers suggested that Garcia, the father of her children, agreed to kill Markel in exchange for Adelson to stop dating her. Garcia briefly confronted Adelson 17 days before the murder."The only thing she's guilty of is terrible taste in men," Tara Kawass, one of Magbanua's lawyers, said during opening arguments.Rivera testified that Magbanua had served as the conduit for the murder plot, and that Garcia had pulled the trigger.Garcia's defense posited a different theory: that Rivera must have been the shooter because Garcia disliked Adelson too much to kill someone for him. Saam Zangeneh, Garcia's lawyer, argued that Adelson had bought drugs from Rivera and hired him directly to commit the murder."I don't think that you can believe anything that he says out of his mouth," Zangeneh told jurors of Rivera. "Do you think he would have gotten the deal that he got if he admitted to being the shooter?"Investigators found no direct link between Adelson and either Rivera or Garcia. David Oscar Markus, a lawyer for Charles Adelson, said the mistrial against Magbanua showed why prosecutors have never charged the Adelson family."The case simply isn't there," Markus said in a statement. "Professional prosecutors rightfully understood that they couldn't prove a case against Charlie before this trial. After the hung jury, their prospects have gone down, not up."Lawyers for Markel's parents said they expect a new trial against Magbanua."After waiting five long years, we are relieved that at least one of the people responsible for Danny's murder was convicted today," their statement said. "Yet justice was only partially served."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company


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