Rejecting 'extortion layaway' defense, jurors convict dentist in murder of FSU law prof Dan Markel
Charlie Adelson is cross-examined by Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman during his trial Nov. 3 in Tallahassee, Florida, for the murder of Dan Markel, a Florida State University College of Law professor. Photo by Alicia Devine/The Tallahassee Democrat via the Associated Press.
Prosecutors gained a fourth conviction in the July 2014 murder of Dan Markel, a Florida State University College of Law professor, after jurors returned a guilty verdict Monday against Markel’s former brother-in-law.
Jurors in Tallahassee, Florida, found dentist Charlie Adelson, 47, guilty of guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, solicitation of murder and first-degree murder. They deliberated for about three hours.
Prosecutors in Leon County, Florida, had alleged that Charlie Adelson paid hit men to kill Markel, with Charlie Adelson’s former girlfriend acting as the go-between.
“During the eight-day testimony portion of the trial, prosecutors painted Adelson as a wealthy and arrogant ‘playboy’ who thought he was smart enough to get away with murder,” according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Jurors apparently rejected Charlie Adelson’s claim that he was the victim of an extortion by gang members who killed Markel without Charlie Adelson’s knowledge and then told the former girlfriend that he would be killed if he didn’t pay them a third of a million dollars. Charlie Adelson said he gave all the cash that he had at his home—$138,000—to his former girlfriend and promised to pay off the rest in $3,000 monthly payments.
Charlie Adelson said he didn’t realize until much later that the ex=girlfriend was part of the extortion plot.
In her closing argument, Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman derided the payment plan as “extortion layaway” and said Charlie Adelson thought that he was “untouchable,” according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Prosecutors had alleged that Charlie Adelson hired gang members to kill Markel during the law professor’s custody battle with his ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, a lawyer who was Charlie Adelson’s sister. The motive was to allow Wendi Adelson to move with the children from Tallahassee, Florida, to be near her family in Miami.
The go-between was Katherine Magbanua, who had been romantically involved with Charlie Adelson and the triggerman, Sigfredo Garcia. She testified that Charlie Adelson “knew he was hiring a hit man,” and that he was the mastermind of the murder plot.
Magbanua and Garcia were previously convicted of murder. Garcia’s accomplice, Luis Rivera, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
A key piece of evidence during the latest trial was a recorded restaurant conversation between Magbanua and Charlie Adelson. It happened after an undercover FBI agent posing as a blackmailer approached Adelson’s mother, Donna Adelson, in what has been termed a “bump” operation.
The agent gave Donna Adelson an article about the murder with “$5,000” written on it, along with a phone number. The agent mentioned “Katie,” a reference to Magbanua, and used the nickname for one of the gang members.
Donna Adelson called Charlie Adelson afterward, even though the FBI agent had not mentioned his name, and said they had to talk about “some paperwork.” Charlie Adelson asked whether it involved himself or other people.
“Well, probably both of us,” Donna Adelson replied. She later acknowledged that it was “a good possibility” that someone was blackmailing them.
At the Dolce Vita restaurant in Miami, Charlie Adelson wondered whether the person who approached his mother was a blackmailer or police officer.
“How do you get people to talk?” he said. “You throw a smoke grenade, and then you get all the cockroaches to run out.”
Charlie Adelson also commented that, “if they had any evidence, we would have already gone to the airport.”
The defense had argued that Magbanua was the mastermind of the extortion plot hatched after she became aware that the Adelson family had offered $1 million to get Markel to move to Miami.
In his closing argument, defense lawyer Daniel Rashbaum argued that there was a “mountain of reasonable doubt” in the case against Charlie Adelson.
Markel’s parents, Ruth and Phil Markel, issued a statement through their lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. They thanked the prosecution team, law enforcement, the Tallahassee, Florida, community, the online community, the media, their friends and family and others.
“While nothing will ever repair the hole torn in our hearts when Danny was stolen from us, we appreciate all those near and far who have joined our family in seeking justice for Dan, and in keeping his memory alive with such dedication,” they said.
No other Adelson family member has been charged. After the verdict, Cappleman spoke with reporters who asked whether there would be any additional charges in the case.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” she said. “So stay tuned.”