Jury selection begins in Daniel Markel murder trial

South Florida residents charged in 2014 killing of FSU law professor

Katherine Magbanua (left), seated next to her lawyer, and Sigfredo Garcia are charged in the 2014 fatal shooting of Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Jury selection began Monday in the murder trial of two South Florida residents charged in the 2014 shooting of Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel.

Sigfredo Garcia and Katherine Magbanua are charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and solicitation to commit first-degree murder.

Another man, Luis Rivera, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to seven years in prison. He is a key witness in the prosecution of Garcia and Magbanua.

Police said Garcia and Rivera traveled from South Florida to Tallahassee to kill Markel. 

A Tallahassee Police Department affidavit said Markel's death was the result of the 2013 contentious divorce from Wendi Adelson, a lawyer who has since relocated to South Florida.

Investigators learned that, at the time of the shooting, Adelson's brother, Charlie Adelson, was in a relationship with Magbanua, whom he regularly called. Garcia is the father of her two children, the affidavit said.

Markel had been involved in a bitter divorce with Wendi Adelson, who was also a law professor at FSU. She filed for divorce in 2012, and Markel later learned that she and their two children had moved to her parents' home in Coral Springs.

Wendi Adelson and Daniel Markel were in the midst of a bitter custody battle when the Florida State University law professor was fatally shot in July 2014.

In June 2013, a Leon County judge formally denied Adelson's motion for relocation with the children.

"Email evidence indicates Wendi's parents, especially her mother, wanted Wendi to coerce Markel into allowing the relocation to South Florida," the affidavit said.

Early in 2014, Markel sought to enforce the judge's ruling, claiming that Adelson's mother "made disparaging remarks about him to his sons." 

Markel asked the court to stop Adelson's mother from having unsupervised time with her grandchildren and to limit the amount of time she spent with them to prevent further disparaging remarks, the affidavit said.

A hearing on the issue was postponed and hadn't been rescheduled when Markel was killed.

Investigators believe the killing "stemmed from the desperate desire" of the Adelson family to have Markel's ex-wife and kids move to South Florida, along with the pending court hearing that might have restricted the grandparents' visitation, the affidavit said. 

Police first linked Garcia and Rivera to the crime after tracing a Toyota Prius that was seen on surveillance videos following Markel's car from a fitness center to his home, the affidavit said. A witness reported seeing two men get out of the car near Markel's home and return to the car about 10 minutes later.

Evidence established that Garcia and Rivera -- both convicted felons -- were in Tallahassee on the day that Markel was killed, the affidavit said.

Luis Rivera pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the 2014 killing of Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel.

Investigators said Garcia's cellphone was used to call Magbanua about 2,700 times between May 1 and July 19, one day after Markel was killed. 

Information from both men's cellphone providers placed them in the vicinity of Markel's home the day before the shooting, and a hotel receipt showed that Rivera rented a room in Tallahassee at about 1 a.m. July 17, the affidavit said.

There was no cellphone data for either phones between about 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on the day that Markel was shot, the affidavit said. Investigators believe that Garcia and Rivera turned their phones off before killing Markel.

The Prius that was seen in the surveillance videos was rented by Rivera in North Miami, and the SunPass transponder in the car documented its trip -- at the westbound Interstate 75 toll plaza in Broward County at 2:18 p.m. on July 16 and at the westbound I-75 toll plaza in Collier County at 5:23 p.m. on July 18, the affidavit said.

Police said there was no prior connection between Markel and the suspects, leading them to believe that Garcia and Rivera "were enlisted" to kill someone whom they did not know.

Investigators said Garcia denied ever being in Tallahassee, taking any trips with Rivera or knowing about Markel's death. 

However, a criminal complaint filed in February 2018 claims Magbanua started receiving paychecks from the Adelson Institute for Aesthetics & Implant Dentistry after Markel's death. The checks, each handwritten and signed by Donna Adelson in the amount of $407.58, started in September 2014 and continued through at least January 2016.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys sit at their desks on the first day of jury selection for Katherine Magbanua and Sigfredo Garcia, charged in the 2014 fatal shooting of Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel.

Investigators reviewed Magbanua's bank accounts and noticed "a significant increase in cash deposits after Markel's murder." Investigators said the amount totaled more than $56,000.

"This amount is over and above the paychecks she had received," the complaint said.

Soon after, investigators said, Magbanua stopped working for the Adelsons and began driving a Lexus registered to Harvey Adelson and previously used by Charlie Adelson. Motor vehicle records indicate the car was later sold to Magbanua for $1,700, below its retail value, even though the amount was never withdrawn from Magbanua's bank accounts.

As well, investigators said, Facebook photographs of Magbanua showed "obvious breast enhancements following the murder."

"Investigators believe that Magbanua is supported financially by Charlie Adelson and has received numerous benefits from the Adelsons since Markel's murder," the complaint said.

The Adelsons have not been charged and have, through their attorney, denied any wrongdoing.

In a September 2016 proffer hearing, Rivera confessed that he was approached by Garcia about "killing a man for a lady who wanted custody of her kids."

Jury selection is scheduled to continue Tuesday. The trial is expected to last four weeks.