Criminal Justice

Prosecutors gain another conviction in murder of law prof Dan Markel; what was the key evidence?

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The woman accused of acting as a go-between in the murder of a Florida State University law professor was convicted Friday, after jurors deliberated for about eight hours.

Katherine Magbanua was convicted of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and solicitation of murder in law professor Dan Markel’s July 2014 murder, report the Tallahassee Democrat, WTXL and WFSU Public Media. It was her second trial; the first had ended in a mistrial.

Jurors appeared to focus on an enhanced recording of a 2016 conversation at a Miami Beach, Florida, restaurant between Magbanua and the man who allegedly sought the hit, dentist Charlie Adelson, the Tallahassee Democrat reports in a separate story. Adelson was Markel’s former brother-in-law.

Prosecutors had alleged that Magbanua was the link between Charlie Adelson and the convicted hit man hired to carry out the job, Sigfredo Garcia. Magbanua had been romantically involved with both men.

Markel and his wife, Wendi Adelson, another professor at the Florida State University College of Law, had divorced the year before his July 2014 death. Prosecutors allege that Charlie Adelson sought Markel’s murder because of a custody dispute in the divorce.

Charlie Adelson has not yet been tried. Garcia, the accused triggerman, was convicted in October 2019. An accomplice, Luis Rivera, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2016.

The recorded restaurant conversation at the Dolce Vita restaurant was made after an undercover FBI agent posing as a blackmailer approached Donna Adelson, who is the mother of Charlie and Wendi Adelson. The undercover agent gave Donna Adelson a newspaper article about Markel. The article had $5,000 written on it and a phone number to call. The incident is known as “the bump.”

The undercover agent referred to Garcia by his nickname “Tuto” and said, “We want to make sure that you take care of what he’s [referring an an alleged accomplice] going through like you’re taking care of Katie and Tuto.” The bump was intended to get suspects talking, so they could be recorded, prosecutors have said.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Charlie Adelson told Magbanua in the restaurant that he suspected that the person who gave his mother the newspaper article was either a police officer or a blackmailer. Charlie Adelson suggested that Magbanua call the number and suggested making a one-time “charity” payment. In closing arguments, the prosecution questioned why Magbanua sat calmly as Charlie Adelson discussed the issue.

The recording was also instrumental in Charlie Adelson’s April indictment.

Other key evidence in Magbanua’s trial showed that money began to flow to Magbanua after the hit. Magbanua was hired at the Adelson family’s dental office—but she had trouble recalling what she did there during cross-examination.

Magbanua received more than $17,000 from the dental office over a year and a half. Often, the checks were in sequential order, showing that they were written out all at once. She was taken off the payroll after Garcia’s arrest.

Magbanua also paid cash for breast augmentation surgery after the murder.

Magbanua’s attorney had claimed that the cash came from Garcia, the father of her children, and from working in nightclubs. But prosecutors emphasized that another ex-girlfriend of Charlie Adelson testified that she saw large amounts of cash at his home and saw a staple in one stack of cash, according to another story from the Tallahassee Democrat.

River had testified that he, Garcia and Magbanua had shared $100,000 in cash that was in stacks of $100 bills stapled together.

Prosecutors had also alleged that there were several calls made after the bump. In one call, Magbanua spoke in code when she told Garcia the phone number, which ended in the digits 6570. Magbanua said the kids’ clothes cost $65.70. She also gave him a street address with the same number.

Magbanua testified at the trial. She acknowledged that the evidence against her “looks bad,” but she denied involvement in the murder and said she had no knowledge of it, the Tallahassee Democrat reports in another story.

She also said she had trouble remembering things since falling ill twice with COVID-19.

See also: “Man is charged in death of law prof Dan Markel; case is reportedly investigated as murder for hire” “Man who pleaded guilty in law prof’s murder tells police that he saw prof’s ex-wife” “Police video shows ex-wife of slain law prof Dan Markel reacting to news of his shooting” “Two men are indicted in law prof’s slaying” “Judge in Dan Markel murder case approves subpoena for breast implant payment records” “Shooting death of law prof who founded PrawfsBlawg is investigated as homicide”

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