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Dan Markel Case: What You Need to Know

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Posted at 12:18 PM, Sep 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-24 09:26:14-04

(WTXL) — Five years after a FSU law professor was gunned down inside his own garage, two of the people suspected in his murder will finally face their fate in court.

Dan Markel, a 41-year-old prominent law professor at Florida State University, was shot inside his garage at his Betton Hills home in Tallahassee, Florida, on July 18 2014. He died the following day.

Three people were arrested in connection to his murder: Sigfredo Garcia, Luis Rivera and Katherine Magbanua.

Rivera pled guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to seven additional years on top of a 12-year federal sentence on unrelated charges. Garcia and Magbanua have instead opted to be tried in a court of law on Sept. 23.

Here's what we know about Dan Markel's murder so far.

Who was Dan Markel?

Daniel Eric Markel was born on October 9, 1972 and raised in Toronto, Canada. He later graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 2001. He studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and earned a master's in political theory at Cambridge before returning to Harvard for his law degree.

Before he started teaching at Florida State, Markel served as law clerk to Judge Michael Daly Hawkins of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He joined FSU's College of Law in 2005 and held the post of the D'Alemberte professor of law.

Not long after he began working at FSU, Markel got married to Wendi Adelson on February 26, 2006, their wedding announced in The New York Times. Adelson was a third-year law student at the University of Miami at the time and later became a clinical law professor at FSU.

Markel and Adelson had two sons together: Benjamin in 2009 and Lincoln in 2010.

Throughout his time at FSU, Markel was well-known as "a great and generous scholar." The professor authored a book, "Priviledge or Punish: Criminal Justice and the Challenge of Family Ties," and also wrote several academic articles and opinion pieces that were published in The New York Times and The Atlantic.

"Anytime I needed to talk to him, he was always around to talk," said Ryan Wechsler, a former student of Markel's, shortly after his death. "He always took an interest in me, and his students who were similarly situated and interested in criminal law."

Memorial service held for Dan Markel

"A bitter divorce"

While two lawyers joined in matrimony sounds like a fairy-tale marriage, Markel and Adelson's relationship came to a halt when Adelson filed for a divorce on Monday, September 10, 2012.

Court documents say Markel had reportedly come home from a business trip to discover that his family and most of his possessions were gone. Among the things left was divorce paperwork on his bed.

Investigators say Adelson had moved their two boys into her parent's home in Coral Springs but eventually brought the children back to Leon County to let legal arguments play out after Markel protested her decision.

The divorce was messy, according to court documents. In one motion, Dan passionately argued that the children shouldn't be allowed to leave the Capital City, saying that "there is no need or benefit to ripping up the fabric of their lives." He also contended that Adelson refused to tell him where she was with the children for weeks, calling her departure, "cruel and abrupt."

In contrast, Adelson asserted in court documents that moving to Coral Springs would place her and the boys closer to her family, "providing more stability and consistency," for the her and the children.

Despite the fighting, the couple was granted a divorce without a trial in July 2013, Leon County Circuit Judge Hobbs denying Adelson's request to relocate the children a month earlier.

The two agreed to split custody of the children 50/50 and Markel agreed to pay Adelson $841 per month as child support on top of a lump sum payment of $120,000. However, the exes continued to squabble via court filings over money, when Adelson would allow Skype calls between Dan and the children, the children's education plans, and freedom of access to the children.

In February 2014, Markel filed a motion to enforce the marriage settlement agreement, claiming Adelson and her lawyer were not forthcoming about her financial assets. The following month, Dan filed a motion seeking to prevent Adelson's mother, Donna, from having unsupervised time with his sons in order to protect them from "disparaging comments about their father."

A court hearing was scheduled to hear Markel's motions against Adelson. Documents say, "due to substitutions of counsel, the hearing was continued."

Markel was murdered at his home before a new hearing was scheduled.

"Strangest, saddest, most surreal experience"

On Friday, July 18, 2014, documents say Markel left his home to drive his two young children to their daycare on the west side of Tallahassee, dropping them off at 8:50 a.m. He then drove to Premier Health and Fitness Center on Maclay Boulevard and arrived around 9:12 a.m., a Toyota Prius arriving with him.

The professor left Premier around 10:38 a.m., driving toward Thomasville Road as the same Prius followed him. Investigators believe that the Prius followed Markel throughout the morning and eventually followed him back to his home.

At 11:02 a.m., the Tallahassee Police Department was called to Markel's Betton Hills home on Trescott Drive. When they arrived, they found Markel "slumped over in the driver seat of his vehicle from an apparent gunshot to the head," the garage door still wide open.

Markel died the next day at a local hospital.

"This is probably the strangest, saddest, most surreal experience I've ever had in my life," Shelly Markel, Dan Markel's sister, told ABC 27 back in 2014. "I don't think I could have ever imagined this scenario. I'm still trying to see when I am going to wake up."

Before the shooting, documents say Markel was talking to someone on the phone when he was reportedly interrupted by an unfamiliar person standing in his driveway.

"The person on the telephone with Markel then heard what sounded like a loud grunt. He heard a muffled conversation in the background, but could not make out the words being spoken," investigators wrote in the probable cause report. "He then heard labored breathing but could not get Markel to respond."

An autopsy report revealed that Markel was shot twice in intermediate range, once in the forehead and once in the left cheek. A neighbor heard the gunshot and called the police, but not before spotting a Toyota Prius backing out of Markel's driveway.

As the investigation into Markel's death continued over the next two years, investigators began to fit together the pieces and connected the Toyota Prius to two men: Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera.

Garcia and Rivera
Garcia and Rivera

Documents say an unnamed witness told investigators about a meeting with Garcia and Rivera at a Tallahassee motel sometime in June, about a month before Markel was murdered at his home. The witness recalled seeing Rivera with a revolver handgun, the same kind of gun that investigators say was used in Markel's murder.

Police later found that a rental company's contracts linked Rivera to a rented green 2008 Toyota Prius, similar to the one that was seen following Markel's car. The Prius was rented out from from July 15, 2014 to the 21st. That's when investigators say Garcia and Rivera began their drive from Miami to Tallahassee for the hit.

On the 17th, Rivera and Garcia arrived in Tallahassee and checked into their West Tennessee Street motel. Documents say their both men's phones were also detected near Premier while Markel was inside, corroborating what investigators saw on surveillance video.

"Information obtained from the cellular service provide for [Rivera's number] is consistent with Rivera's handset traveling from North Miami to Tallahassee at a time consistent with having committed the murder and then immediately heading back to North Miami after the homicide," investigators wrote.

Investigators interviewed both men, neither confessing to the murder.

Garcia was arrested on May 25, 2016. On June 2, 2016, Rivera, who was already in federal custody serving time for his involvement in the Latin Kings gang, was named a co-defendant in Markel's murder.

Family ties

At first, Markel's death seemed like a random act of violence on the unsuspecting law professor.

In probable cause documents, investigators wrote that Markel didn't know Garcia and Rivera and never had any contact with them prior to his death. Because of this, investigators concluded that Garcia and Rivera were likely "enlisted" to commit the murder.

It led investigators to piece together a motive: The Adelson's "desperate desire" to relocate Wendi and the children to South Florida.

"E-mail evidence indicates Wendi's parents, especially her mother, wanted Wendi to coerce Markel into allowing the relocation to South Florida," a probable cause document reads. "Additionally, Wendi's brother, Charles Adelson (Charlie), reportedly did not like Markel and did not get along with him."

As a court hearing that could have restricted their access to the children grew closer, prosecutors contend the Adelsons, Wendi's parents Harvey and Donna as well as her brother Charlie, turned to an illegal remedy after exhausting all options.

Investigators believe the coordinator of that illegal remedy was likely Katherine Magbanua.

Katherine Magbanua - Leon County Jail
Katherine Magbanua - Leon County Jail

In 2016, Rivera plead guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to spend an additional seven years in prison on top of his 12-year federal sentence. Along with Rivera's plea, came evidence that helped investigators charge Magbanua with first degree murder on October 1, 2016.

"It is believed that the murder was arranged through Katherine Magbanua, who has been romantically involved with both Garcia and Charlie Adelson, the victim's former brother-in-law," investigators wrote in her probable cause document.

Garcia is the father of Magbanua's two children. Prosecutors say she was also involved in a relationship with Charlie Adelson around the time of Markel's murder. Through investigation, police found that Magbanua was the recipient of various phone calls from both the suspects and the Adelsons.

About an hour and a half after Markel's murder, investigators say the first person Garcia called was Magbanua. Cellphone records also suggest that Garcia and Rivera met with Magbanua the night before going to Tallahassee. The day of Markel's murder, documents say multiple phone calls went back and forth between Magbanua and Garcia and Magbanua and Charlie Adelson.

After an undercover agent gave investigators a peek into Magbanua's conversations with the Adelson family, police found solid evidence that lead the State Attorney's Office to charge Magbanua with the crime.

Justice for Dan

Tallahassee will finally get some answers on what happened to Dan Markel on Sept. 23.

Sigfredo Garcia and Katherine Magbanua are set to go to trial together next week. The trial is expected to last anywhere for three to six weeks.

The day before trial, Magbanua's attorneys filed a motion asking for a separate trial.

Last year, the state moved to combine their trials because both defendants' charges are similar crimes the cases have similar evidence. The defense argued that combining the cases would mean any evidence from Garcia's case that implicates Magbanua could be inadmissible.

A judge denied Magbanua's request. Jury selection started on Monday. For the latest on Jury selection, click here.

Before an official trial date was set, the trial had been pushed back multiple times.

According to former collegaue and friend of Markel, Jason Solomon, Dan's parents haven't seen the kids since Wendi Adelson took custody. That's why he started an online petition, which has garnered more than 200 signatures so far.

Friend starts petition for Dan Markel's parents to visit his children

"The kids are getting older. For the boys to have the connection to their father's family and for Dan's family to have that connection to his sons," said Solomon.

While the trial may finally give Markel's family some closure, Solomon says he hopes this petition puts pressure on Wendi.

"She has a long life ahead of her, she's going to have to rebuild her reputation professionally and personally and people are really watching to see what she does in these circumstances," said Solomon.

As for the Adelson family, no family members have been charged in relation to the murder and all have denied involvement from day one. Wendi Adelson was scheduled to answer questions from Magbanua's defense attorneys about the case in a deposition hearing in Miami on July 2.

Markel's parents, Dan and Ruth, his sister Shelly, police and forensic investigators, and ex-wife Wendi Adelson’s boyfriend at the time were also set to be deposed.