Criminal Justice

Was there a go-between in the murder of law prof Dan Markel? Defense offers alternative theory

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Lawyers for Katherine Magbanua, accused of being a go-between in the murder of law professor Dan Markel, offered an alternative theory of the case in opening statements Wednesday.

Prosecutors alleged that Magbanua was the link between Markel’s former brother-in-law Charlie Adelson, who wanted Markel killed, and the convicted hit man hired to carry out the job, Sigfredo Garcia. Magbanua had been romantically involved with both men.

But the defense maintained that Charlie Adelson directly hired Garcia as part of a deal involving who could be Magbanua’s boyfriend, Original Jurisdiction reports.

Markel and his wife, Wendi Adelson, had divorced the year before his July 2014 death. Both were professors at the Florida State University College of Law.

Charlie Adelson was arrested April 21 and charged with soliciting the murder. Magbanua had met Charlie Adelson when she worked in a dental practice where he was a visiting periodontist. She had broken up with Garcia before she began dating Adelson, the defense said.

Prosecutors allege that Charlie Adelson sought Markel’s murder because of a custody dispute in the divorce. Wendi Adelson has not been charged in the case.

A standard defense is to stress that prosecutors have the burden of proof.

“But the best defenses—and often the defenses that involve an actually innocent defendant—offer an alternative theory of the case,” according to David Lat, a writer at Original Jurisdiction.

Defense lawyer Tara Kawass used that strategy when she told jurors Wednesday that Garcia became jealous after Magbanua began dating Charlie Adelson. Eventually, Garcia told Adelson that he wanted Magbanua back. According to the defense theory, Charlie Adelson said Garcia could have Magbanua back if Garcia murdered Markel. As a further incentive, Charlie Adelson offered to pay Garcia $100,000, the defense alleged.

Magbanua was initially tried with Garcia in October 2019. Jurors convicted Garcia but were unable to reach a verdict in the case against Magbanua. Her retrial began this week.

In the first trial, defense lawyers said Magbanua wasn’t involved but didn’t blame Garcia for the murder and didn’t claim that he was hired directly by Charlie Adelson.

“This time around, things are different,” Original Jurisdiction reports. “Magbanua is being tried alone. Convicted in 2019, and having lost his appeals, Garcia remains in prison, isn’t going anywhere and has nothing to lose. This time around, Magbanua’s lawyers can blame Garcia—and Garcia might even help them do it. He’s on defense counsel’s witness list; might he take the stand in this trial and testify that he dealt with Charlie directly, keeping Magbanua out of the loop entirely?”

Original Jurisdiction said the defense nonetheless “has some serious problems” that include communications after the murder. And Magbanua began receiving checks from the Adelson dental practice months after the murder, a police officer testified Wednesday, according to coverage by the Tallahassee Democrat.

In addition, police have a newly enhanced secret recording between Charlie Adelson and Magbanua at a restaurant in South Florida.

Charlie Adelson made this statement at the restaurant: “Like, yeah, you work for the office now because the checks are from there. And that’s just because you come in and work on the weekends, which I trust that you’re doing because I’m never there when I see you; you tell me you do it and the place looks clean, so you get your checks. You clean up, whatever.”

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