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Miami man sentenced to life in prison for murder of Daniel Markel

Sigfredo Garcia spared death death sentence after killing FSU professor in 2014

Sigfredo Garcia was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 2014 fatal shooting of Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel, Oct. 11, 2019, in Tallahassee, Florida. (Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A Florida jury has spared the life of a man convicted in the execution-style murder of a Florida State University law professor.

Sigfredo Garcia instead was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday for his role in the killing of Daniel Markel, who was shot to death in his Tallahassee garage in July 2014.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Garcia, who traveled from Miami to Tallahassee with another man to kill Markel.

The jury needed 30 minutes to reach a decision.

Meanwhile, prosecutors vowed to move forward with retrying Garcia's former girlfriend, Katherine Magbanua. Last week, the same jury deadlocked on a verdict for Magbanua, who was also charged with first-degree murder. Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman said Magbanua was a lynchpin for the murder-for-hire scheme.

Cappleman argued during the two-week trial that Magbanua enlisted Garcia, the father of her two children, to take part in a hit financed by Markel's in-laws.

Katherine Magbanua listens to her defense attorney Tara Kawass in court, Oct. 11, 2019, in Tallahassee, Florida. A mistrial was declared for her alleged role in the 2014 fatal shooting of Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel.

Garcia then enlisted childhood friend Luis Rivera to help.

Police and prosecutors said the two men drove from South Florida to Tallahassee to execute the plan, stalking Markel on July 18, 2014, as he went about his morning routine. After dropping off his children at day care and stopping at the gym, Markel returned home, where he was shot to death as he sat in his car talking on his cellphone.

Garcia has maintained that the fatal shots were fired by Rivera, who is serving seven years in prison for second-degree murder after agreeing to testify against Garcia and Magbanua.

The three represent just half of the narrative presented by Cappleman during the high-profile trial, which attracted national attention last week.

From the beginning, Cappleman presented Garcia and Magbanua as the hired help in a sprawling conspiracy to kill Markel.

Cappleman asserted that Garcia and Magbanua, along with Rivera, were working on behalf of financiers who spent $100,000 to see Markel dead. Central to her case has been the role of the family of Markel's ex-wife, Wendi Adelson.

Markel had been involved in a bitter divorce with Adelson, who filed for divorce in 2012. 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.

Markel later 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 because she had made disparaging remarks about him. But the matter was never resolved because Markel was killed.

Adelson told police that her brother, Charlie Adelson, had joked about hiring a hit man as a divorce present but had decided instead to buy her a television.

No charges have been brought against any of the Adelsons, and family members have denied any role in the murder.

Cappleman declined to speak specifically about any case that might develop.

With a chart showing the connection of the defendants to the Adelson family and Daniel Markel in the foreground, Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman presents her closing arguments, Oct. 10, 2019, in Tallahassee, Florida.

"I'd like to get to everyone who's involved," Cappleman said. "But I'm not desperate to have more cases to do."

In an interview outside the courtroom Tuesday, Saam Zangeneh, Garcia's attorney, said he had approached his client about cooperating with prosecutors, but Garcia declined to do so.

The jury's relatively quick decision to spare Garcia's life came after Zangeneh appealed to their compassion in arguing that Garcia's lack of control over his own life -- because of his rough upbringing, mental anguish and domineering from Magbanua -- should be a key consideration in their deliberations.

When it returned, the jury said the prosecution did, in fact, prove some legal circumstances -- such as premeditation -- to support the death penalty, but those considerations weren't enough to end his life.