Paul L. Caron

Saturday, June 8, 2019

A Law Professor's Murder In Tallahassee Was A Contract Hit, Prosecutors Say

Markel SuspectsMiami New Times, A Professor's Murder in Tallahassee Was a Contract Hit, Prosecutors Say:

In the 15 months preceding what investigators say was a "murder for hire," Dan Markel's ex-mother-in-law, Donna Adelson, had sent her only daughter a flurry of emails. They were pointed and vitriolic, filled with hatred for her son-in-law.

She called the man with two Harvard degrees an "idiot," a "fucker," and a "bastard."

"You suffered under his 'reign,'" Donna wrote to her daughter, Dan's ex-wife Wendi, in May 2013. "Narcissistic personality disorder causes major problems in a marriage."

Donna continued by derogatorily calling Dan "Jibbers" for his habit of talking incessantly and "Elvis" for what she perceived as his swollen self-regard.

She concluded the email, "I'm too angry to write any more. I'm going to shower, wash my hair, and get ready for you and the boys to come home."

The email is one of hundreds of thousands of documents, CDs, and photos of evidence in a file in the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee, where Sigfredo Garcia, age 37, and Kathy Magbanua, his 34-year-old, on-again, off-again girlfriend and the mother of his two children, will soon face trial on first-degree murder charges.

Cops say Donna Adelson and her son Charlie, Wendi's older brother, paid $100,000 to have Markel killed. According to law enforcement, they hoped to free Wendi to move with her two pre-school-aged sons to South Florida, where she grew up. But almost five years after the murder, neither has been criminally charged.

"This is such an unusual situation, in that law enforcement is alleging a conspiracy but only some members of that conspiracy have been charged," says David Lat, a New York lawyer who has tracked the case from the beginning on his blog, Above the Law.

Three suspects from Miami were arrested in 2016. One of them was Luis Rivera, AKA "King Tato." By the time of the indictment, Rivera was already serving a 12-year federal sentence on criminal conspiracy charges for his role as a leader of the Latin Kings' North Miami operation. Rivera received a reduced sentence of 19 years to run concurrent with his federal sentence in exchange for his confession and cooperation in

If Garcia or Magbanua are convicted in Tallahassee, they might be inclined to cooperate with the state — if they have information, that is. "If they implicate the Adelsons, the case will be much stronger," Lat says. "So I don't think the Adelsons are out of the legal woods yet." ...

The divorce was finalized in July 2013. Dan would pay $841 per month in child support and a lump-sum payment of $180,000. He got the house. She got the minivan.

But it wasn't over. In the months after the settlement, Dan and Wendi quarreled over payment of the kids' expenses as well as drop-off and pick-up times. They also argued over Wendi's desire to move to South Florida, where her family ran a dental clinic.

Donna Adelson claimed that Dan had become a "religious zealot" since the couple's sons were born and that he was "indoctrinating them, not teaching them." If he really cared, he would allow the kids to move to South Florida with Wendi, where they could study at "one of the 37 Hebrew Day Schools in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County," she wrote in an email to Wendi in May 2013.

Donna pushed her daughter to be more forceful in the court hearings. She continually blamed her son-in-law for the demise of the marriage and accused him of brainwashing the children. And she insisted her daughter let everyone know. "It's super important for the judge to get the message that this guy is a big bully," Donna wrote at one point.

In advance of a July 2013 court hearing in the divorce, Donna wrote an email to Wendi with the subject line "Please read — very important."

"It's time to take control of your life and not let [Dan] think he's just 'won' anything by having you remaining [in] Tallahassee, eight hours away from the only family you have...," Donna wrote in the three-page missive. "Let's show this fucker what will make him absolutely miserable." ...

Donna laid out a plan to deceive Dan into believing the children would become part of a Catholic church if they remained in Tallahassee. She advised Wendi to tell him: "You wanted me in Tallahassee. My children are going to 'fit in' in this bible belt."

Donna said pretending to convert the kids to Christianity could sway Markel and appeal to the judge, Leon County Circuit Judge Barbara Hobbs. "There were multiple donations from her church pastors & ministers on her financial contributions," Donna wrote. "She's a Southern black lady. How do you know it won't be music to her ears to hear this?"

Donna ended the note telling Wendi the family was prepared to offer Dan $1 million to allow Wendi to move to South Florida.

"Everyone has a price," she said. "It is about winning or losing." ...

On July 11, 2014, Donna emailed Wendi to confirm a Best Buy appointment to fix a broken TV set. It was scheduled for between 8 a.m. and noon July 18, 2014.

Dan would be shot dead in that time frame. ...

The police affidavit for Garcia's arrest implicated Charlie and Donna Adelson. The motive for the slaying, it stated, "stemmed from the desperate desire of the Adelson family" to bring Wendi and the couple's two young sons home to South Florida. ...

Like Garcia's arrest warrant, the probable-cause affidavit in Magbanua's case suggested Charlie and Donna were involved in Markel's killing. It noted a flurry of cell-phone calls between Charlie, Donna, and Magbanua around the time of the murder. It went on to describe cash deposits Magbanua had made to her bank accounts over the next year of up to $2,000 at a time, about $44,000 total. Magbanua had also begun to receive checks from the Adelson dental practice in September 2014. The checks were signed by Donna Adelson.

Daniel Rashbaum, a lawyer on the team representing Donna and her husband Harvey, declined to comment and referred an inquiry to an August 2016 statement regarding the case. "We understand why the government has put the Adelson family through this type of severe scrutiny," the statement reads. "But nothing has turned up that supports this fanciful fiction that the Adelsons were involved. The investigation has gone so deep that it employed FBI agents, undercover agents, and a tip line. There is a reason that the police have not arrested any of the Adelsons — they weren't involved in Dan's death." ...

Wendi has been subpoenaed by the state and is also expected to testify.

The Adelsons — Donna, Harvey, and Charlie — will not be there, a lawyer for the family said. But their names will certainly come up.

"It will be impossible for the government to make the case against [Magbanua] and Sigfredo without heavily mentioning the Adelsons," says Lat, the attorney and Above the Law blogger.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


Word to the wise: be like Trump. Don't use e-mail.

Or at least don't put anything in email or instant message that you wouldn't want shown to a jury.

Posted by: Anon | Jun 9, 2019 12:34:25 AM

It's somewhat puzzling as to why this trial has been repeatedly delayed. They've had the goods on Garcia and Magbanua for a couple of years now. Far more time than necessary has been accorded the defense to prepare.

It's puzzling the prosecution has been so cautious in pursuing the Adelsons.

Posted by: Art Deco | Jun 8, 2019 5:57:19 PM