Dan Markel was a lawyer and law professor at Florida State University who was shot as a part of a murder-for-hire plot orchestrated by his ex-wife Wendi Adelson. Ahead of the Dateline NBC episode about his murder, called “Tallahassee Trap,” here’s what you need to know about the three people who have been charged in connection with his death — none of which are Adelson.
Adelson Hired Two Men To Kill Her Husband During Their Volatile Divorce
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, in July 2014, Markel was found slumped over the steering wheel of his car inside his garage with a single gunshot wound to the head. Luis Rivera, 33, and Sigfredo Garcia, 34, weren’t arrested until two years later after an extensive investigation into Adelson and her mother and brother, Donna and Charlie, all of whom were involved in hiring the hitmen to kill Markel over a custody dispute — Adelson wanted to move to South Florida with their two young sons and a judge said that she could not. Incidentally, two days after Markel’s murder, she moved her young sons to South Florida, according to the New York Times.
According to the Democrat, Adelson maintained at the time that she was not involved in the killing. But Adelson’s ex-boyfriend Jeffrey Lacasse testified at the trial that she told him her brother Charlie had looked into hiring a hitman to kill Markel. When Adelson testified, she claimed her brother brought it up as a joke, reported the Democrat.
But at trial, Rivera, who took a plea deal and agreed to testify against Garcia, said that Katherine Magbanua, the mother of Garcia’s two children, was the conduit between them and the Adelson family because Magbanua previously dated Charlie Adelson and worked for him at his dental office, according to the Florida Sun-Sentinel. At the trial, prosecutors played wiretaps of conversations between Charlie and Magbanua, and Garcia and Magbanua where they were talking about the plot, reported WCTV. Rivera also testified that Garcia was the one who actually pulled the trigger and afterward called Magbanua to confirm that Markel was dead. They then split the $100,000 payment from the Adelsons — Rivera took $37,000, Garcia took $40,000 and Magvanua got the remaining $23,000. Furthermore, bank records showed that after the murder, Magbanua started receiving regular checks from Adelson’s dental practice that were handwritten and signed by his mother, Donna, according to the New York Times.
Rivera and Garcia Are in Prison, Magbanua is Awaiting ReTrial
At the time of Rivera’s arrest, he was already in federal prison on racketeering charges for his association with the Latin King gang. He was serving a 12-year sentence and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Markel’s death to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to seven years in Markel’s death, which he is serving concurrently with his racketeering sentence in a federal prison in Arizona.
Magbanua and Garcia were initially tried together, but the jury was unable to reach a verdict on Magbanua in the October 2019 trial. They did find Garcia guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder plus 30 years for the conspiracy charge, according to WCTV.
At the time, lead prosecutor Georgia Cappleman said she was satisfied with the verdict and sentencing for Garcia and intended to retry Magbanua. The Tallahassee Democrat reported that Magbanua’s trial was rescheduled for April 2020, but was later postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to WCTV. Her next court date is scheduled for December 2020.
None of the Adelsons have ever been charged in the case. Wendi Adelson received immunity in exchange for her testimony at Garcia and Magbanua’s trial, meaning her testimony could not be used against her if the state ever does bring charges. But according to WTXL, if the state can find an independent legitimate source for the evidence against her, she could be charged using that evidence.
“The testimony can’t bite her, but the information that comes from an independent legitimate source, not derived from that testimony which she is immune from, could definitely have some teeth,” said criminal defense attorney Don Pumphrey.
Dateline NBC is in its 29th season and is the longest-running series in NBC primetime history. It currently airs Mondays and Fridays at 10 p.m. ET/PT and Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.