South Florida man found guilty in fatal shooting of Daniel Markel

Sigfredo Garcia convicted, but mistrial declared for Katherine Magbanua

By Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor

Sigfredo Garcia is handcuffed by a deputy after being found guilty in the 2014 fatal shooting of Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel as co-defendant Katherine Magbanua sits with her attorneys, Oct. 11, 2019, in Tallahassee, Florida.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - One of two South Florida residents has been found guilty in the 2014 fatal shooting of Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel, but a mistrial was declared Friday for the second suspect accused in the murder-for-hire plot that authorities allege was orchestrated by the victim's in-laws.

A jury convicted Sigfredo Garcia of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. However, jurors couldn't come to a unanimous decision on the fate of his ex-girlfriend, Katherine Magbanua.

Garcia, who is the father of Magbanua's two children, was acquitted of solicitation to commit first-degree murder.

Police and prosecutors alleged he and Luis Rivera traveled from South Florida to Tallahassee to kill Markel.

Rivera pleaded guilty for his role in the July 2014 shooting and testified against Garcia and Magbanua in exchange for a lesser sentence.

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 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.

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.

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.

"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.

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

Adelson's brother, Charlie Adelson, had been in a relationship with Magbanua at the time of Markel's shooting.

Katherine Magbanua wipes away tears after the father of her children, Sigfredo Garcia, is found guilty of killing Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel, Oct. 11, 2019, in Tallahassee, Florida.

A criminal complaint filed after Magbanua's arrest in February 2018 claims she 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 death.

Defense attorneys argued during the trial that Garcia and Magbanua were scapegoats in the state's failed attempts to charge the Adelsons.

Garcia faces the death penalty, while Magbanua could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.

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