Ex-wife of FSU professor denies role in alleged murder-for-hire plot

Statement says ex-wife's family not involved in 2014 death of Daniel Markel

By Associated Press, Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor
Headline Goes Here

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.

MIAMI - The ex-wife of a slain Florida State University law professor and her family on Wednesday denied having any involvement in an alleged murder-for-hire plot to kill him, according to a statement issued by their lawyers.

Attorneys for Wendi Adelson and several family members said in the statement that speculation they had a role in Daniel Markel's killing is "categorically false." Authorities have previously said there may be a link between Markel's July 2014 death and the couple's contentious divorce.

"To be clear, none of the Adelsons -- Wendi, her brother Charlie, or their parents Donna and Harvey -- had anything to do with Dan's murder," attorney David O. Markus, who represents Charlie Adelson, said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press.

Police said Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera traveled from South Florida to Tallahassee to kill Markel, who was shot in the head as he sat in his car inside his garage on July 18, 2014.

Both men are awaiting a November trial on murder charges, and prosecutors said they are seeking the death penalty.

Garcia has pleaded not guilty, and Rivera has yet to enter a plea. Since the killing, Rivera was convicted of unrelated federal racketeering charges stemming from his leadership role in the Latin Kings street gang and was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison.

A Tallahassee Police Department affidavit said Markel's death was the result of the 2013 contentious divorce from Wendi Adelson, a lawyer who now lives in Miami Beach and works for a federal judge. Harvey and Charlie Adelson run a well-established dental practice in South Florida.

As laid out in the affidavit, 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.

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, originally scheduled for May, 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. It did not say who hired the suspects.

The Adelson statement, however, indicates that the family fully intended Markel to remain a presence in the children's lives and that there was no ill will toward him.

"Dan's death was a tragedy, and the loss is profound," the statement said.

The family has been subjected to an intense investigation over the past two years -- including FBI involvement -- that went over phone and computer records, emails, financial documents and text messages, the Adelson statement said.

"There is a reason that the police have not arrested any of the Adelsons -- they weren't involved in Dan's death," the statement said.

A Tallahassee police spokesman did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

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.

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

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

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.

Copyright 2016 by WPLG Local10.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.