Murder for Hire? Everything We Know About the Case of Dan Markel

When I stumbled on a podcast called Over My Dead Body this Summer, I was surprised to learn that its first season followed the murder of one Dan Markel, former FSU Law Professor. I was even more surprised when I began listening, out of sheer curiosity of what goes on in Tallahassee, and learned that not only was this FSU Law Professor murdered, there was evidence to suggest it might be a case of Murder-for-Hire.

Now, five years after the murder and a few months after I was first consumed by the murder mystery podcast, two South Floridians are on trial for the murder of Dan Markel. But what reason could two seemingly random South Floridians have for driving 7 hours to murder a stranger? Here’s what we know.

Dan Markel was a Toronto native who received his Law Degree from Harvard Law School in 2001. He joined the FSU Law school faculty in 2005 and was tenured five years later, in 2010. Dan Markel married Wendi Adelson, a third-year law student at the University of Miami whose family had a dentistry practice in Coral Springs, just one year into his time teaching at Florida State. Their wedding was even announced in The New York Times!

By 2010, the couple shared two kids, Benjamin and Lincoln, and by 2012, Wendi was filing for divorce. According to the trial proceedings that followed to arrange custody and child support, Wendi Adelson was unhappy in Tallahassee while her husband was well-established and in no rush to leave his job at FSU. She traveled to Coral Springs with her two kids while her husband was away on business, and although she argued that being close to her family would be good for her children, Markel argued that there was no need to have their lives uprooted or to be so far from him. Leon County Circuit Judge Hobbs agreed with Markel and denied Adelson's relocation request a month before settling their divorce out of court in July 2013. 

Wendi Adelson and Dan Markel; Courtesy: Tallahassee Democrat

On the morning of July 18, 2014, Dan Markel was followed by a Toyota Prius while he dropped his kids off at daycare, went to the gym and drove home. At 11 AM, two strangers stepped into his garage and shot him once in the forehead and the cheek while he was still in the driver's seat of his car. A neighbor heard the gunshots and called the police and while help arrived immediately, Markel died of his injuries early the next morning. Eventually, the Toyota Prius was discovered to have been the rental car of Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera, two Miami men placed in a West Tennessee Street Motel with a handgun only one month before the murder. Since these two people had no clear connection to Markel, police believed it was a random hit. But why would two men rent a car and drive all the way to Tallahassee to commit a random act of violence?

While investigators searched for evidence in the case, they learned that Wendi Adelson’s family was desperate to coerce Dan Markel into allowing her and her kids to relocate to Coral Springs. There were also allegations that Charlie Adelson, Wendi’s brother, was not fond of Markel in particular. This led investigators to conclude that Adelson’s mother and brother had exhausted all their legal options to get Wendi and their grandkids/nephews back to South Florida and had decided to seek illegal solutions to their problems instead.

This police theory was then strengthened by the discovery that Charlie Adelson was secretly involved with the mother of Sigfredo Garcia’s children, Katherine Magbanua. Magbanua is believed to be the central point of contact between the Adelson’s and Garcia and Rivera, arranging the hit and payment. Rivera pled guilty in 2016 and had 7 years added to a 12-year sentence he was already serving for his involvement in the Latin king’s gang. Through the collection of call records, e-mails and voice recordings of their conversations, police had sufficient evidence to charge Magbanua for the murder of Dan Markel.

Katherine Magbanua and Sigfredo Garcia have been on trial since late Sep., with the jury being sequestered on Oct. 10 for final deliberations. Wendi Adelson has taken the stand to deny her involvement and to reiterate that she does not believe that her brother was involved either. On the stand, Rivera detailed the drive to Tallahassee, Garcia is the only shooter and his knowledge that Wendi Adelson was paying for the hit. Despite this, it appears that the Adelson family will not be on trial for the murder of Dan Markel any time soon, with too little physical evidence available to charge any of them with the murder. The jury is expected to decide the case of Katherine Magbanua and Sigfredo Garcia sometime before Oct. 18. 

Katherine Magbanua and Sigfredo Garcia; Courtesy: Sun-Sentinel

As far as Markel’s family goes, his parents allege that they have not seen their grandchildren in a little over three years. A family friend, Jason Solomon, formed an online petition urging Wendi Adelson to let her kids see their grandparents which at this time has over 800 signatures. In the Open letter accompanying the petition, Solomon writes, "The Markels have suffered enough in losing a son. Please do not inflict more pain on them by continuing to deny them access to their son’s children." You can keep up with the trial against Magbanua and Garcia and jury deliberation here.

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