Criminal Justice

Man who pleaded guilty in law prof's murder tells police that he saw prof's ex-wife

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Updated: The Florida man who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the shooting death of law professor Dan Markel told police he was informed that the motive in the alleged murder for hire was because “the lady wants her kids back,” an apparent reference to custody issues concerning Markel’s ex-wife and her family.

The suspect, Luis Rivera, also said that he and alleged trigger man Sigfredo Garcia drove near Markel’s house the day before the murder, and they saw Markel’s ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, eyeing their car, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

The Tallahassee Democrat obtained last week’s police interview of Rivera, who pleaded guilty earlier this month in the July 2014 death of the Florida State University law professor. The newspaper summarized the interview; TaxProf Blog has part of the transcript, while Above the Law also has a story.

Rivera told police he didn’t know the identity of the woman walking with her two children near Markel’s home the day before Markel was killed. Rivera said he asked Garcia why the woman was looking at them as they were driving their rented Prius in the neighborhood.

“Who is this lady, why is she looking so much?” Rivera says he asked. Garcia allegedly replied, “Oh, that’s the lady. That’s Wendi.”

Rivera said Garcia called Katherine Magbanua, accused of acting as a go-between in the murder, and asked what “the lady” was doing in the neighborhood. Magbanua supposedly told Garcia the lady was there to make sure everything was all right with the kids.

TaxProf Blog has a transcript. “He calls Katie,” Rivera says, referring to Katherine Magbanua. “Hey what’s going on? I seen this lady up here? … She’s making sure everything’s fine … He’s leaving tomorrow on the flight or wherever the f* he was going. … So we gotta do this tomorrow because he’s leaving and she came up to see the kids. … She’s just making sure everything’s all right with the kids.

“She wants to make sure we was up here. She wants to make sure she wasn’t paying him for nothing.”

Rivera said, however, he was never told the names of the people who allegedly hired him and Garcia to carry out Markel’s murder, according to the previous story by the Tallahassee Democrat. The total payout for the crime, Rivera said, was $100,000: Garcia would get $40,000, Rivera would get $35,000, and Garcia’s ex-girlfriend, Magbanua, would get the rest. Magbanua has also been charged in the slaying; she had been involved in a relationship with Wendi Adelson’s brother, Charlie Adelson.

“Katie is the woman in the middle doing everything,” Rivera said. “It’s all because of Katie, man. She had [Sigfredo Garcia] crazy. She would go cheat on him and she would tell him if you want me back you have to go do this.” Magbanua was booked into jail on Monday, the Tallahassee Democrat reports in a separate story.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman told the Tallahassee Democrat that Rivera’s story—if it could be proven—could tie Wendi Adelson to the crime. “I think if it’s true, it implicates her, but I haven’t been able to confirm or deny that,” Cappleman said.

Cappleman said that “I think I would require a witness such as Ms. Magbanua” before she could bring charges against any family member.

A police affidavit in the case has alleged that the motive for the murder was the “desperate desire” to relocate the children of Markel and Wendi Adelson to South Florida. No member of the Adelson family has been charged in the case, and the family has denied any involvement. Police had sought to arrest Charlie Adelson, but the state attorney had refused to issue a warrant, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges.

Above the Law considers whether the Rivera interview implicated Wendi Adelson. The blog decides it’s unclear. “Rivera’s testimony on this rather important topic is muddled and confused—not surprising, given that these events took place more than two years ago—and one can see how Rivera might have jumped to some conclusions or made some incorrect assumptions,” Above the Law says.

Wendi Adelson’s lawyer, John Lauro, told the Tallahassee Democrat that Rivera “is hardly a credible witness.”

“As everyone in this investigation recognizes, [Rivera] has no personal knowledge about the statements he made concerning Wendi,” Lauro said. “All of his alleged information is second- or third-hand and none of it has been corroborated during the investigation.”

Updated on Oct. 12 to include statement by Wendi Adelson’s lawyer.

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