Paul L. Caron

Thursday, May 25, 2017

One Year After Arrest Of Alleged Hit Man, Prosecutors Are No Closer To Charging Adelsons In Murder Of Dan Markel, Despite 'Mountain Of Strong But Circumstantial Evidence'

Markel SuspectsTallahassee Democrat, Prosecutor Not Ruling Out Charges For Ex-In-Laws In Markel Case:

A year ago today, one of Tallahassee’s most enthralling whodunits took an explosive turn when Sigfredo Garcia was arrested at a Miami-area gas station.

His arrest began the dominos falling in a nearly two-year long investigation into who killed Florida State law professor Dan Markel. Soon enough, Garcia's arrest on murder charges would be followed by that of his alleged accomplice and the woman investigators say helped broker the deal between the hitmen and Markel’s former in-laws.

But a year later, none of those who investigators and prosecutors say paid to have Markel shot in his Betton Hills garage have been charged in connection with the July 2014 killing. Donna and Charlie Adelson, the mother and brother of Markel’s ex-wife Wendi Adelson, vehemently deny involvement in the plot despite being implicated as the instigators and financial backers of the murder-for-hire plot.

Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman said at this point there is a lack of direct evidence to arrest anyone in the Adelson family. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. She pointed out there is no statute of limitation for murder charges and the investigation continues.

“I don’t take lightly charging somebody with murder and I’m only going to get one shot so I want to make sure that it’s our best effort,” Cappleman said, noting a mountain of strong, but circumstantial, evidence in the case. “Yes, the implications are there, but you can’t take implications to a jury.”

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JM, the prosecutor's statements can't be used in a subsequent trial. Just because they say "I don't think we have enough evidence to convict" doesn't prevent them from getting a conviction later on. For example, her statement could be seen as a commentary on the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses, not on the sufficiency of their testimony. For example, a witness testifying "defendant paid me to kill victim" would be sufficient to uphold a conviction against the defendant, but if the witness has a lot of credibility problems, the jury might not believe them and thus vote to acquit.

Also, Cappleman is correct. They still don't really have a solid murder-for-hire connection between any Adelsons and the murder. Charlie is closely connected with Magbauna who is closely connected to one of the hitmen. But those connections existed years before the murder. Transfers from Charlie to Magbauna can be explained away as part of a long series of expensive gifts to a mistress. Transfers from Magbauna to one of the hitmen can be explained away by their shared children. How do we know the hitmen didn't overhear something Magbauna or one of the Adelson's said and mistakenly believe Charlie would pay them for a murder? How do we know that Magbauna didn't hire them on her own initiative? As for Wendi, even the state doesn't seem to believe she had any knowledge of the murder before it happened.

I admit that Charlie definitely fits as a defendant in a lot of ways, but fitting isn't enough. You have to connect all the dots to sustain a conviction, especially against a wealthy client with good lawyers. Even against a penniless shitbird, you still need to connect all the dots. And the Adelson's have done the smart thing- they shut their mouths and lawyered up. You wouldn't believe the percentage of criminal cases that are held together by admissions from defendants. It's an insanely high number.

Posted by: Jim W | May 26, 2017 7:37:35 AM

The use of the word "hit man" is offensive.

As there is no evidence of intent, we should give immunity to almost everyone involved, and then let the shooter go for being extremely careless in the handling of a weapon.

You're welcome again.

Posted by: Jim Comey | May 26, 2017 4:59:37 AM


My problem is more with what Cappleman is saying that what she is doing. She has repeatedly said that she doesn't believe the State has enough evidence to charge or convict the Adelsons. If not in this article, those statements are in many others. That is so completely false it is hard to put into words. They have the direct testimony of the confessed murderer, hundreds of contemporaneous phone calls, mysterious payments to Magbanua, a recorded conversation btw Charlie and Mangbanua calling an informant a "problem" that needed to be taken care of, not to mention the motive and the means. It's more than enough to convict.

I understand the strategy of holding out for your best case, but there is nothing to be gained by saying (falsely) that the evidence you have now is insufficient. What if Magbanua does not flip because the Adelsons promise to take care of her kids for the rest of their lives. I could see that. Hard to turn back the clock and charge them after saying the evidence is insufficient. I'd give it 60/40 at this point that the Adelsons walk.

Posted by: JM | May 25, 2017 11:32:36 AM


The prosecutors have only one shot, and there is no statute of limitations. It makes sense for them to wait until Magbanua flips, as it would make their case vastly stronger.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | May 25, 2017 9:21:33 AM

IIRC the hitmen tried to juice up their testimony by saying they saw Wendi at the scene just before the hit. The problem is that Wendi has a solid alibi that puts her nowhere near at the time. So you've got a guy who is already on the hook for the murder, who has a huge incentive to incriminate others and has already been caught lying to accomplish this. And he's the only prosecution link between the crime and the unindicted co-conspirators. Taking the case forward at this time is asking for it.

I'm not surprised they are taking the scenic route on this one, especially since there is no statute of limitations and they only get one shot at this.

Posted by: Jim W | May 25, 2017 9:01:41 AM

Georgia Cappleman has taken this case away from the people. She is unilaterally saying there is not enough evidence, when I am sure the average citizen would vote to convict on this mountain of evidence against the Adelsons.

Also, no direct evidence? What about the testimony of the admitted killer that the Adelsons paid for him?

Posted by: JM | May 25, 2017 6:54:26 AM

Doesn't matter. There's no evidence of intent.

Posted by: Jim Comey | May 25, 2017 4:30:07 AM

And shouldn't we mention the plum job Wendi just seems to have landed? Things looking up for the Adelsons. Shame on all of them.

Posted by: Oops | May 25, 2017 3:48:32 AM