Criminal Justice

Criminal defense lawyers say police have it wrong in claimed law professor contract-hit case

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Lawyers for two suspects in what authorities say was a contract hit on a Florida law professor that may be linked to a bitter divorce are dubious about the merits of the case against their clients.

Plus, another criminal defense lawyer well-acquainted with the family of the law professor’s wife flatly says none of the family had anything to do with the crime, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports.

“I have known the family my entire life. There is no doubt in my mind about their innocence whatsoever,” attorney Michael Weinstein told the newspaper on Friday, explaining that he grew up near the family in Coral Springs, which now includes a number of physicians. “The family has no involvement in this matter,” said Weinstein.

Daniel Markel, a tenured Florida State University law professor, was fatally shot in July 2014 in the garage of his Tallahassee home. A 2001 graduate of Harvard Law School, he had served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review, according to news reports.

Sigfredo Garcia, 34, is the only individual charged in the Markel homicide. He faces a first-degree murder case.

Another man, Luis Rivera, 33, has also been named as a suspect but is not yet charged. He is currently serving time for a federal racketeering conspiracy conviction and, authorities said, will be charged with murder in the Markel slaying, the Sun Sentinel reports.

Garcia and Rivera are accused of driving together to Tallahassee before Markel was killed. However, authorities say they don’t know if any money changed hands. And they haven’t revealed they suspect of hiring the pair to kill Markel.

They say cellphone records, among other evidence, put the two men in the area at the time Markel was killed and point to an unidentified witness who says he saw Rivera—at some point in June 2014—with a firearm of the same type used to kill the law professor.

Attorney Sky Smith, who represented Rivera in the racketeering case, said he learned only Friday that his client is now a suspect in the Markel homicide.

“I found him to be a decent guy,” Smith told the Sun Sentinel. “He’s been involved with the Latin Kings for a long time, but the allegations against him involved drugs and some fights. This is totally out of left field.”

Attorney Jim Lewis is representing Garcia.

“I’m becoming very concerned from watching these police press conferences. They are putting out information that is very provocative. I’m becoming concerned that we are not going to get a fair trial in Tallahassee,” Lewis told the newspaper. “From what I’m looking at now, I think they’ve got it wrong. Time will tell.”

Markel, who was 41 at the time he died, was married in 2006 and divorced in 2013. However, contention continued, centered on finances and the couple’s children.

His wife, a former FSU clinical law professor, began clerking in Miami in September for Judge Adalberto Jordan of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

An investigation is ongoing, and both Tallahassee police and Weinstein declined to comment about the substance of the Markel homicide case.

Authorities had sought to keep it under seal, but a judge made some of the records in the case available to the public, the Sun Sentinel notes.

Related coverage:

Tallahassee Democrat: “Markel, Adelson sparred up to the end”

WXTL: “Garcia’s Lawyer Says Arrest is Based on Speculation”

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