For almost a decade, the sensational murder of a prominent Florida law professor in 2014 centered on a single, sordid question: Did his ex-wife’s family, motivated by a horrific custody dispute, hire hitmen to murder her?
On Monday, a jury found yes and found Charles Adelson, the former brother-in-law of slain professor Dan Markel, guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and solicitation of murder. He faces a possible sentence of life in prison.
Mr. Adelson closed his eyes, said “no” and bowed his head as the verdict was read at the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee, Florida. The jury deliberated for just over three hours after eight days of testimony, including that of Mr. Adelson himself, who took the rare step of testifying in his own defense.
Mr. Markel, 41, a well-known legal scholar at Florida State University, was shot to death on July 18, 2014, at his home in an upscale Tallahassee neighborhood. Police found him injured and he died 14 hours later in hospital.
Mr. Adelson, a 47-year-old periodontist from Fort Lauderdale, is the fourth person convicted in Mr. Markel’s death, which has been dissected over the years in news articles, television shows and a podcast.
“It has been more than nine years since Danny was brutally murdered in cold blood, and it took enormous effort to get to this point,” his parents, Ruth Markel and Phil Markel, said in a statement after the verdict. Monday.
According to prosecutors, Mr. Adelson arranged and paid for two men, Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera, a former leader of the North Miami Latin Kings gang, to travel to Tallahassee from Miami and kill Mr. Markel so that his ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, could move to South Florida with the two young sons of the couple. A judge had rejected his request to move after the divorce.
The killing was organized, prosecutors say, through Katherine Magbanua, Mr. Adelson’s girlfriend at the time, who had two children with Mr. Garcia.
Mr. Rivera pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2016. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison and testified against Mr. Garcia, Ms. Magbanua and Mr. Adelson.
A jury condemned Mr. Garcia of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in 2019. He was sentenced to life in prison.
The same jury that convicted Mr. Garcia could not agree on whether or not to convict Ms. Magbanua. Prosecutors retried his case last year, after delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
She was convicted of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and solicitation of murder. His sentence was life in prison, with two additional 30-year terms consecutive to his life sentence.
Ms Magbanua, who had insisted she was not involved in the murder, reversed her story at Mr Adelson’s trial and gave evidence against him. Dressed in a purple prison uniform, she said he asked her to ask Mr. Garcia and Mr. Rivera to carry out the stunt.
“Why tell the truth now? lead prosecutor Georgia Cappleman asked him.
“I believe the truth needs to be revealed now so the family can have some closure,” Ms Magbanua said.
Daniel Rashbaum, Mr. Adelson’s defense lawyer, repeatedly called Ms. Magbanua a liar. “I lied in my trials to save myself,” she said.
Mr. Rashbaum did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
Prosecutors consider Mr. Adelson’s family members — his sister Wendi Adelson and their parents, Donna Adelson and Harvey Adelson — to be unindicted co-conspirators. None have been charged and all have denied any involvement. Wendi Adelson testified with limited immunity in all three trials held in this case.
Charles Adelson was arrested last year, nearly eight years after the murder.
In his account, he was not conspiring to commit murder when he paid Ms. Magbanua about $100,000 and then hired her for a no-show job at the family dental practice for $3,000 a month. Instead, he testified, he was the victim of an extortion plot by Mr. Markel’s killers.
The unexpected defense, first presented by Mr. Rashbaum during the opening statements of the trial, was as follows:
Mr. Adelson’s family planned to pay Mr. Markel $1 million to allow Ms. Adelson and their sons to leave Tallahassee. Mr. Garcia and Mr. Rivera learned of the plan, plotted to kill Mr. Markel and then, through Ms. Magbanua, threatened Mr. Adelson if he did not pay them.
“She said, ‘Look, if you don’t pay within 48 hours, they’ll kill you,'” Mr. Adelson testified.
Mr. Adelson never reported the alleged extortion to the police.
In 2016, police tapped Mr. Adelson’s cellphones; his mother, Donna Adelson; Ms. Magbanua; and Mr. Garcia. An undercover FBI agent posed as a member of the Latin Kings gang and demanded money from Ms. Adelson to compensate Mr. Rivera’s family, who was in prison.
This prompted Mr Adelson and Ms Magbanua to meet at a restaurant, where an undercover officer recorded parts of their conversation. Mr. Adelson suggested that the person posing as the blackmailer could be paid off or possibly killed, depending on the recording.
He also raised the possibility that the blackmailer was an undercover agent, although he said that didn’t worry him.
“If they had proof,” he said, “we would have gone to the airport by now.”