TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — ABC 27's Kendall Brandt is in the courtroom for opening statements and witness testimony in the trial of Charlie Adelson. He is accused of hiring hitmen to murder FSU Law professor Dan Markel in 2014 in his Betton Hills home during a custody dispute between Markel and Adelson's sister, Wendi.
Click here for our coverage from when Adelson was arrested last year.
UPDATE 10/26/2023 5:55 P.M.
Court dismissed after Wendi Adelson testified for over two hours.
Wendi Adelson was grilled by Prosecutor Georgia Cappleman on her involvement with her brother, knowledge of his claim that Magbanua was extorting him and her divorce.
"What was your first thought when you were asked if anyone might have murdered Dan Markel for your benefit?" Cappleman asked.
"I thought oh, my god. Maybe if I hadn’t divorced him he would still be alive," Wendi said. "Maybe this is my fault.
Wendi said she did not know until Thursday her brother's story.
Defense attorney Dan Rashbaum also questioned Wendi. He asked her about her life in Tallahassee, her relationship with her brother and involvement in any harm to Markel. She said she was not involved in any way.
"You’re aware that the state has named you as an unindicted co-conspirator in the murder of your ex-husband, right?" Rashbaum asked.
"Correct," Wendi said.
Wendi is set to take the stand again Friday morning.
UPDATE 10/26/2023 3:50 P.M.
Wendi Adelson took the stand. Cappleman called her as a witness.
The prosecutor asked Wendi about how she met Dan and their history.
Wendi said her and Dan split in 2012.
Cappleman asked about emails Donna Adelson, Charlie and Wendi's mother, sent to Wendi about plans to win the custody battle.
The prosecutor moved on to asking Wendi about answers she gave law enforcement after the murder. Cappleman then asked if she told police she thought her family could have been behind it. She said yes, but also mentioned Markel's girlfriend at the time and FSU students as possible people of interest.
"Your family had your ex-husband killed to try to help you, right?" Cappleman asked.
"No that's completely untrue," Wendi responded.
UPDATE 10/26/2023 2:52 P.M.
FBI special agent Patrick Sanford took the stand around 1:46 p.m.
Sanford was the lead investigator on this case. He said the divorce filing was looked into when investigating the murder.
He confirmed Markel's actions leading up to his shooting. Sanford said they were able to track his movements from security cameras across the city. They also were able to track the vehicle following him, a light-colored Prius.
Cappleman presented security camera footage from the gym Markel went to the morning of the shooting as evidence. She asked Sanford to show jurors where Markel's car was followed from the gym.
Agent Sanford broke down video taken from city bus surveillance that traces the Prius Garcia and Rivera are in following Markel home.
He also discussed how him and his team tracked the Prius back to South Florida. He said he was able to this through SunPass data used to go back down south. Agent Sanford said he then tracked the car back to a rental car business.
He then discussed how they were able to track Sigfredo Garcia back to the rental car. He said the company turned over records indicating Garcia had rented the car.
After analyzing phone records, he said he then tracked Garcia's phone records, leading him to Katherine Magbanua. Agent Sanford said financial records show Magbanua received a large increase in income from the Adelson institute, the Adelson family's dental practice.
Agent Sanford said he went to the practice and asked for employee records. He said employees did not know what her role was.
Defense attorney Dan Rashbaum cross-examined Sanford. He asked about the checks made out to Magbanua, asking the amount and frequency.
Rashbaum also asked about the request for relocation in the custody battle. He asked if he knew the request was made over a year before the murder. Sanford said yes.
After, Rashbaum asked Sanford if he was aware Wendi Adelson looked at buying a property in Tallahassee and enrolling her children in a different school in Leon County. He said no.
UPDATE 10/26/2023 1:43 PM
Doctor Anthony Clark, the medical examiner who performed Markel's autopsy, took the stand.
As photos were shown, he explained the two bullet wounds that Markel took to the face at the time of the murder. One was to the cheek and the other to the brain.
Clark also described bruises and cuts that came from broken glass.
He also pointed out soot from the revolver that the shooter used on Markel's arm.
UPDATE 10/26/2023 12:09 P.M.
JoAnn Maltese, retired TPD forensic specialist, took the stand at 11:54 a.m.
Maltese testified that she examined the scene of the shooting at Markel's home.
She said she took photos of evidence like shattered and broken eyeglasses, a wallet, a broken car window and bullet holes.
Cappleman presented evidence like broken glass, part of a pair of eyeglasses and a wallet. She asked Maltese if that was what she photographed at the scene. Maltese said yes.
Maltese said she also went to the hospital to collect evidence. She took photographs of Markel's body to document the condition.
Cappleman showed the photos Maltese took of Markel to the jury.
The prosecutor also showed photos of a bottle of whiskey and receipt in Wendi Adelson's car.
Defense attorney Dan Rashbaum cross-examined Maltese. He asked about the bottle of liquor and asked if she knew Wendi was planning on going to a party later that evening. She said no.
The judge dismissed for lunch around 12:10 p.m.
UPDATE 10/26/2023 11:53 A.M.
Retired TPD Sargent David Sims took the stand. He said he responded to the call for shots fired on Trescott Drive.
He said he first saw shattered glass.
After he discovered Markel, Sims continued to call his name as he said Markel moved slightly and was breathing.
He said Markel's children were not at the scene. Sims also said Markel's home did not have signs of entry by the suspect.
Sims was dismissed at 11:52 p.m. He was not cross examined by the defense.
UPDATE 10/26/2023 11:46 A.M.
Judge Everett called the court back into session around 11:18 a.m.
At least two witnesses will be heard before lunch. They will be a crime scene witness and a medical examiner.
James Geiger was the first called to the stand. He lives on Trescott Drive. He was living on the same street as Dan Markel when he was killed in 2014.
He said he heard a loud bang while sitting with his wife the morning of the murder.
He then said he saw a car drive quickly out of Markel's driveway. Geiger said he went to investigate.
He said he thought initially it was a burglary.
"I noticed the garage door was up and the car was in the garage," Geiger said.
He said he then thought there was no burglary due to Markel's car being in the garage.
After his car sat running for a few minutes, Geiger said he went back.
"I am going to walk on in to the garage and make sure everything was okay," Geiger said. "I looked at the drivers side window and it was busted out. I recalled stepping on glass."
He said he then saw Markel with a bullet wound to the head. Geiger said he saw him still moving.
"I hollered at him, 'Danny, what happened?'" Geiger said.
He said then went back home and called 911.
Cappleman played the 911 recording.
Cappleman then showed Geiger photos of Markel, his home and the garage from the day of the murder. Geiger confirmed that the home was Markel's and Markel was his neighbor.
Geiger was dismissed at 11:46 a.m. He was not cross examined.
UPDATE 10/26/2023 11:04 A.M.
Defense attorney Dan Rashbaum began his opening statement 10:14 a.m.
He began his appeal to the jury by saying the murder of Markel was senseless.
"The world lost a brilliant legal mind," Rashbaum said. "This community lost it's sense of security and lost a good citizen."
Rashbaum said Adelson did not have anything to do with the murder.
"What I am going to tell you today is what actually happened," Rashbaum said.
He said the state is incorrectly connecting Adelson to the murder to draw a line between the hitmen and Markel.
"Those assumptions didn't make sense," Rashbaum said.
Rashbaum said another crime was committed when Markel was murdered. He said the state does not yet know what that is. Rashbaum then continued his statement, saying he will reveal the crime later.
Rashbaum then gave Adelson's background to the jury. He said Adelson was a traveling periodontist and a "workaholic."
He said Adelson drove frequently for work and talked on the phone a lot in the car.
Rashbaum said Wendi Adelson called Charlie to confide in him about the divorce.
He then went on to say to the jury that Charlie did joke about hiring a hitman to kill Markel when Wendi was moving.
"Charlie has a history of telling bad jokes," Rashbaum said.
Rashbaum said Adelson continued to repeat the joke.
He said Charlie was not impacted by Wendi's motion to have the kids relocated to Miami. That motion was denied.
Rashbaum then admits Donna and Harvey Adelson, Charlie's parents, are very involved in their children's lives.
He said the Adelsons did email back and forth about hypothetical plans. One of those plans: paying Markel off to allow the children to relocate. Rashbaum said the Adelson parents asked Charlie to help pay part of the $1 million because he had more money than they did.
After discussing the emails, Rashbaum moved on to talking about Adelson's relationship with Magbanua. He said they began dating in October of 2013 with a casual relationship.
Rashbaum then said Magbanua wanted more than Charlie wanted out of their relationship. He also said Magbanua's ex-boyfriend and hitman Sigfredo Garcia hated Adelson. Rashbaum said Garcia was Magbanua's high school sweetheart.
He said the day of Markel’s murder was just like any other. He said he traveled to Jupiter from Fort Lauderdale and spent two hours in the car. He said he talked on the phone with his sister, mom and girlfriend.
Rashbaum said Adelson found out Markel had been killed the evening of the murder. He then had dinner with Magbanua, who Rashbaum said was "frantic." He said they had previously gotten into a fight.
Rashbaum said Magbanua sat Adelson down and told him she knew who killed Markel.
The defense attorney then addressed payments Magbanua received from the Adelson Institute. Rashbaum said Magbanua was extorting Adelson. He said she threatened that the same killers who murdered Markel would kill Adelson and his family.
Rashbaum moved on to addressing the FBI bump.
"What it really was was the second extortion," Rashbaum said.
The arrests of the three convicted murders came up next. Rashbaum noted that both Garcia and Rivera were both arrested in 2016 and Magbanua in 2021.
He said the state's evidence has not changed since 2016.
"Its a case of assumptions," Rashbaum said. "It's a case of guesses."
Rashbaum also said they have their own clarified recording of the Dolce Vita conversation.
UPDATE 10/26/2023 10:16 A.M.
Prosecutor Sarah Dugan started the state's opening statement around 9:20 a.m.
“The Adelson family had a big problem," Dugan said. "That problem was Dan Markel.”
Dugan said Adelson hired hitmen to kill his sister, Wendi Adelson's, ex-brother-in-law Dan Markel. Adelson's girlfriend at the time of the murder, Katherine Magbanua, was convicted of murder last year.
Dugan said the Adelsons were going to bribe Markel $1 million to allow relocation to Miami. Dugan said Donna Adelson, Charlie’s mother, said he would pay a third of that.
“Make no mistake,” Dugan said. “This was a very messy custody dispute.”
She said Charlie Adelson was his mother Donna’s right-hand-man. Dugan said Donna constantly spoke with Charlie about Wendi’s divorce.
Dugan said Markel filed a motion with the court that Donna was disparaging him to his children. She said the motion was never a problem for the Adelson family because Markel died before a ruling was made.
“Their big problem had been solved,” Dugan said.
She said investigators looked at both the Adelson parents as well as his friends and associates to trace him back to the murder.
She said Adelson is linked the two hitmen who rented a Toyota Prius from Miami to kill Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera via Katherine Magbanua.
Dugan said Magbanua was close with Garcia, who knew Rivera.
After tracing back the Pruis that followed Markel in the hours before his death to Garcia, Dugan said investigators discovered via cell phone records that Garcia's most frequent contact was Katherine Magbanua.
Dugan said Magbanua also received a spike of income from the Adelson institute for two years after the murder.
Rivera and Garcia were arrested in 2016. Law enforcement used cell phone records and the rental car to place them at the scene.
“All of the members of this conspiracy have gone on with their lives,” Dugan said.
Before the arrests in 2016, Dugan said an undercover agent approached Donna Adelson on the streets of Miami with a newspaper with a story on the Markel murder. The paper had "$5,000" and a phone number written on it.
Dugan said Donna called Charlie immediately after.
"Despite the fact the undercover agent never mentioned the defendant,” Dugan said.
She said the Charlie and Donna discussed the interaction briefly, with Donna describing the interaction as someone hand-delvering "paperwork."
The FBI also tapped a conversation between Magbanua and Adelson at a restaurant called Dolce Vita in Miami. Dugan said Charlie told Magbanua to handle the situation with the informant by hiring Garcia or Rivera to kill him.
"He said 'If he can’t handle this, I will have someone else do it,'" Dugan said.
Dugan said the original recording of the Dolce Vita conversation had too much background noise to hear Adelson clearly. She said the audio was clarified in 2022. That is when Adelson was arrested.
She closed her statement by telling the jury they will see Adelson's guilt through the trial.
"Dan Markel was loved. He was a brother. He was a son," Dugan said. "This trial is his family’s opportunity to see justice done for the person who set up their son’s murder.”
UPDATE 10/26/2023 9:08 A.M.
The jury sat down at 9:07 a.m. as they prepare to listen to opening statements.
UPDATE 10/26/2023 8:50 A.M.
Opening statements are set to begin Thursday morning for the trial of accused murderer Charlie Adelson.
Judge Stephen Everett entered the courtroom at 8:44.
A jury was seated in the case at 4:56 p.m. Wednesday.
Adelson is accused of hiring hitmen to kill his ex-brother-in-law FSU Law professor Dan Markel in the driveway of his Betton Hills home in 2014.
Adelson, who is originally from Miami, has plead not guilty.