Closing arguments begin in Daniel Markel murder trial

Katherine Magbanua points finger at victim's former brother-in-law

By Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor

Daniel Markel was shot in the head as he sat in his car inside the garage of his Tallahassee home in July 2014.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Closing arguments began Thursday in the murder-for-hire trial 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 in connection with the July 2014 fatal shooting.

Another man, Luis Rivera, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He testified against Garcia and Magbanua.

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

"This is about the most premeditated murder imaginable," Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman told the jury during her closing argments.

Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman speaks to the jury during her closing arguments in the murder trial of Sigfredo Garcia and Katherine Magbanua, charged in the 2014 fatal shooting of Florida State University law professor Daniel 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 moved 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.

Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat

Wendi Adelson, the ex-wife Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel, who was shot and killed in 2014, chuckles as she is asked about her brother Charlie Adelson and the number of girlfriends he has had.

Prosecutors have argued that Charlie Adelson enlisted Magbanua to recruit Garcia and Rivera to kill Markel.

Investigators linked Garcia and Rivera to the crime after tracing a Toyota Prius that was seen on surveillance videos following Markel's car to his home. Cellphone records and other evidence established that Garcia and Rivera, both convicted felons, were in Tallahassee on the day that Markel was killed.

Police 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.

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.

Magbanua took the stand Wednesday and testified that she didn't have anything to do with Markel's death. But, after hearing the state's argument, she believes Charlie Adelson did.

Katherine Magbanua is questioned on the witness stand during her murder trial. She is charged in the 2014 fatal shooting of Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel.

"Do you think Charlie Adelson was involved in this and that he was lying to you?" Miami defense attorney Tara Kawass asked Magbanua.

"Yes," Magbanua answered.

A criminal complaint filed after Magbanua's arrest 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 Wendi and Charlie Adelson's mother, Donna Adelson, in the amount of $407.58, started in September 2014 and continued through at least January 2016.

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.

Miami defense attorney Saam Zangeneh, who represents Garcia, told the jury during his closing arguments that the state's case seems to be aimed at the Adelsons, who haven't been charged. He reminded jurors that Cappleman spent the first 21 minutes of her opening remarks talking about the Adelsons.

Defense attorney Sam Zangeneh speaks to the jury during closing arguments in the murder trial of Sigfredo Garcia and Katherine Magbanua, charged in the 2014 fatal shooting of Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel.

"I would venture to say there's substantially more evidence against the Adelsons than there is against Sigfredo Garcia," Zangeneh said. "Substantially. Motivation. Documentation. Ability. More. Much more. Yet here we are."

Garcia could get the death penalty if convicted. Magbanua faces life in prison if convicted.

Rivera was sentenced to 19 years in prison to run concurrently with an unrelated federal case.

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