Criminal Justice

Prosecutor refused to arrest former brother-in-law of slain law prof Dan Markel

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Probable cause affidavits seeking the arrest of the former brother-in-law of slain law professor Dan Markel contained “speculation” but lacked enough evidence to bring charges, according to the top prosecutor in the Florida judicial circuit that includes Tallahassee.

State Attorney Willie Meggs said he refused to issue a warrant for the arrest of the former brother-in-law, Charlie Adelson, or his former girlfriend, Katherine Magbanua, whom police suspected was the “conduit” between Charlie Adelson and the hitmen who carried out the murder of the Florida State University law professor in July 2014. The Tallahassee Democrat has the story. TaxProf Blog links to additional coverage.

Markel’s ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, had told a Tallahassee police officer after Markel’s murder that her brother had joked when he gave her a new TV that it was cheaper than hiring a hit man. She also said that Markel hadn’t treated her very well and she was “scared someone maybe did this—not because they hate Danny but because they thought this was good somehow.” Later, however, she said she doesn’t think anyone in her family would kill Markel.

Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera have been charged in the murder. Magbanua had two children who were fathered by Garcia.

The probable cause affidavit obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat on Thursday says Rivera and Garcia bought several cars and motorcycles after the murder, and Magbanua began getting paychecks from the Adelson family’s dentistry practice. The checks were signed by Wendi Adelson’s mother, Donna Adelson. Magbanua had previously worked at another dental office.

“It is investigators’ belief,” the affidavit says, “that after her divorce from Markel, Wendi Adelson and her brother, Charlie, as well as her parents, Harvey and Donna Adelson, were determined to relocate Wendi and the two Markel children to South Florida where the Adelsons reside. After exhausting all efforts to force or compel Markel into agreeing to allow his ex-wife and children to relocate to South Florida, the subject family members previously identified realized any hope of a legal remedy in their favor was futile.”

Donna Adelson had suggested offering Markel $1 million to allow the children to move to South Florida, and had suggested that Wendi lie and tell Markel the children would be converted to Catholicism if he didn’t allow the move, according to the affidavit. “When Wendi refused these tactics,” the affidavit says, “Donna was extremely upset.”

Markel had filed a motion before his murder alleging Donna Adelson had told the children that Markel “stupid” and had said he was “taking her ‘Sunshines’ away from her.” The motion asked a judge to require that visitation with Donna Adelson be supervised.

The affidavit also notes phone calls between Magbanua and Charlie Adelson in the weeks before the slaying, followed by phone calls between Charlie and Donna Adelson, and phone calls between Magbanua and Garcia.

Magbanua and Charlie Adelson also had phone contact four times in the hour before the murder, the affidavit says. There were also calls between Donna and Charlie Adelson in the minutes after the murder, followed by two calls between Charlie Adelson and Magbanua. Garcia also called Magbanua after the murder.

The affidavit alleges there is sufficient evidence to prove the involvement of Charlie Adelson and Magbanua in the murder. Meggs told the Tallahassee Democrat that he disagreed. “My opinion after reading those documents is there is no probable cause here to make an arrest,” Meggs said. “We kind of believe they were involved according to the police. But what we believe and what we think doesn’t count. What evidence do we have?”

Charlie Adelson’s lawyer, David Oscar Markus, praised Meggs for his decision in an email to the Tallahassee Democrat. “Mr. Meggs has spent the past 40 years as a prosecutor, with 30 years as state attorney, and before that was a decorated police officer. He is one of the most experienced state attorneys in the nation and he knows probable cause when he sees it,” Markus said. “We are thankful that he faithfully and honorably fulfilled his duties and did not approve this document, which amounted to no more than simple speculation after a truly exhaustive investigation.”

The Adelson family previously released a statement denying involvement in the slaying. Any speculation as to the family’s involvement is “categorically false,” the statement said.

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