TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - One of the suspects in the 2014 killing of a Florida State University law professor has taken a plea deal.
Luis Rivera pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree murder for his role in what police have called a murder-for-hire plot that targeted Daniel Markel.
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Rivera, who is already serving a 12-year prison sentence on an unrelated charge, is now sentenced to an additional seven years behind bars.
Before Tuesday's plea hearing, Rivera was set to begin trial for first-degree murder this month, facing a potential death sentence.
Assistant state attorney Georgia Cappleman told reporters that Rivera admitted to being the driver in the July 18, 2014 killing of Markel, who was shot in the head in the garage of his Tallahassee home.
Police said Rivera and Sigfredo Garcia 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 now lives in Miami Beach and works for a federal judge.
Investigators learned that, at the time of the shooting, Adelson's brother, Charlie Adelson, was in a relationship with Katherine Magbanua, whom he regularly called. Garcia is the father of her two children, the affidavit said.
Magbanua was arrested Saturday by Davie police on an out-of-county warrant.
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.
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.
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.
Cappleman said she could not have moved forward with charges against Magbanua without Rivera's cooperation.
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