Criminal Justice

Alleged go-between denies involvement in murder-for-hire plot against law professor

  • Print.

judge and gavel

Image from

The woman accused of acting as a go-between in a plot to murder Florida State University law professor Dan Markel denied any involvement in the final day of trial testimony Wednesday.

Katherine Magbanua was sexually involved with alleged triggerman Sigfredo Garcia and with Dan Markel’s former brother-in-law, Charlie Adelson, at the time of the law professor’s fatal shooting in July 2014. Closing arguments in the joint trial of Magbanua and Garcia began Thursday, report WCTV and the Tallahassee Democrat.

In her testimony, Magbanua said she had nothing to do with the murder, although the prosecution case had led her to think Charlie Adelson was involved, report the Tallahassee Democrat and the Miami Herald. She said she had no personal knowledge of Charlie Adelson’s involvement, however.

Charlie Adelson, a dentist in his father’s dental practice, has not been charged in the slaying; nor has any other member of the Adelson family.

Markel and his wife, Wendi Adelson, had divorced the year before his death. Testifying earlier in the trial, Wendi Adelson was asked whether Charlie Adelson had anything to do with Markel’s murder. “I don’t believe so,” Wendi Adelson replied.

Adelson said she had sought full custody of the children during the divorce, and her mother had considered offering Markel $1 million to allow the children to relocate to South Florida, where the Adelsons lived. No offer was ever made, however, Wendi Adelson testified.

Magbanua testified that thousands of dollars in cash deposits to her bank accounts partly came from cash made working as a bottle girl promoting liquor companies at high-end Miami nightclubs. She was also given cash by Garcia to help pay expenses for her children and mother, she testified.

Magbanua also acknowledged that she began receiving checks for $407 from the Adelson dental practice days after Markel was killed. She said she received both checks and cash for working as Charlie Adelson’s personal assistant. She also said she paid for her October 2014 breast implant surgery with cash from her nightclub tips, and the money didn’t come from Charlie Adelson.

Magbanua’s lawyers have suggested that Garcia could have approached Charlie Adelson and agreed to murder Markel in exchange for Charlie Adelson’s promise to stay away from Magbanua.

But Garcia’s lawyers say their client intensely disliked Charlie Adelson because he was dating Magbanua, and he would never have agreed to help. They argue that the state has wrongly implicated their client through the testimony of Luis Rivera, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in October 2016 for allegedly helping Garcia carry out the murder.

Garcia’s lawyers suggest that Rivera is a career criminal and gang member whose testimony can’t be trusted. Rivera told police that he was informed that the motive in the alleged murder for hire was because “the lady wants her kids back.”

In closing arguments, prosecutor Georgia Cappleman said Rivera was a “bad dude” who “made a deal to save his butt,” according to the WCTV story. But she said evidence corroborates his testimony, including surveillance video and a hole in the floor of the rented Prius that they allegedly drove to Markel’s home, which confirmed his account that Garcia had accidentally fired a shot through the floor.

Cappleman said phone records chronicled Rivera and Garcia’s trip to Markel’s home, and that Garcia and Magbanua communicated 21 times during that time, including through 12 phone calls.

Cappleman said it’s natural to wonder why no member of the Adelson family has been charged. That’s “for another day and another jury,” she said.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.