Jury convicts hitman in shooting of FSU law professor

October 11, 2019 in Florida

Sigfredo Garcia watches testimony at his murder trial in Tallahassee. Garcia is accused of shooting FSU law professor Dan Markel in a murder for hire. He has pleaded not guilty.

Sigfredo Garcia watches testimony at his murder trial in Tallahassee. Garcia is accused of shooting FSU law professor Dan Markel in a murder for hire. He has pleaded not guilty.

Tallahassee Democrat

A Miami man was convicted of first degree murder Friday in the death of Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel, but a mistrial was declared for his girlfriend, Katherine Magbanua, whom prosecutors considered the link to the in-laws they believe conspired to have him killed.

Sigfredo Garcia, 37, was convicted of shooting Markel twice in the head in July 2014 while he was parked in the driveway of his Tallahassee home. Garcia will be sentenced on Monday and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Prosecutors say that the South Florida family of Markel’s former wife, Wendi Adelson, financed the murder-for-hire hit on Markel with a promise of $100,000 in cash and gifts. The money was to be divided three ways, the state alleged, between Sigfredo Garcia, the alleged triggerman; Magbanua, his longtime girlfriend; and Garcia’s childhood friend Luis Rivera, the head of North Miami’s Latin Kings gang.

Magbanua testified on Wednesday that she knew nothing the plot to kill Markel, and denied involvement in the conspiracy. But, offering no explanation, she pointed the finger at Charlie Adelson, her former boyfriend, as the one who financed the murder.

In a dramatic turn of events Friday, the 12-person jury asked the judge for the fourth times to answer their questions about who is considered the principal of a crime, clearly confused about how to evaluate the role of one or both of the defendants in the murder.

“If we have a hung jury on one person can we give a verdict on another?,’’ the jurors asked before noon on Friday. “Can you be a principal to premeditation if you do not premeditate it yourself?”

The answer to both of them, according to Judge James C. Hankinson, was yes.

After more than 11 hours of deliberations, which began late Thursday, the jury comprising 10 women and two men, announced they could not reach a unanimous verdict on the same charges against Magbanua, the 34-year-old mother of Garcia’s children. Hankinson declared it a mistrial.

Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman said she will start over with a new trial against Magbanua, the woman she believes worked with Charlie Adelson, Magbanua’s former boyfriend and the brother of Markel’s ex-wife, to arrange the shooting in exchange for payment of $100,000 in cash and gifts.

Markel day nine206
Katherine Magbanua, charged in the 2014 murder of Florida State law professor Dan Markel, testified Wednesday that she believes Charlie Adelson was involved in the crime. Magbanua has pleaded not guilty. Adelson has not been charged. Alicia Devine Tallahassee Democrat

Charlie Adelson and his family have denied all involvement in the murder. His attorney, David O. Markus, said Friday that the reason the state has not charged family members is because there is nothing there. “After the hung jury, their prospects have gone down, not up,’’ he said.

Prosecutors say Charlie Adelson, as well as his mother, Donna, plotted the shooting to end a court order and the emotional strain that had barred Wendi Adelson from relocating her children to South Florida after their bitter divorce.

Before Hankinson declared the mistrial, and after the jury announced it could not agree, Cappleman was asked if she would attempt to negotiate a deal with Magbanua in exchange for information on others involved in the crime. She was circumspect.

Magbanua’s “story right now is: ‘I didn’t know anything,’’’ Cappleman said. So in order for her to help prosecute the Adelsons, “she’d be inconsistent and I would have to live with that if I was going to put her on the stand to cooperate with anyone else.”

She added that “as of right now, I don’t have any indication she has any plans to” provide prosecutors with any information.

Both Garcia and Magbanua were charged with murder in the first degree, conspiracy to commit first degree murder and solicitation of murder. Only Garcia’s charge is subject to the death penalty. Jurors convicted Garcia of only the first two counts, but rejected charges that he was guilty of solicitation of murder.

The judge decided to have both defendants tried at the same time, even though lawyers for Magbanua argued that since she was not accused of being present during the shooting, the charges against her were very different and trying her at the same time as Garcia could interfere with her right to a fair trial.

Markus, Charlie Adelson’s attorney, said he hoped that the Markel family “feels some sense of justice and relief that Garcia was convicted.”

“This trial must have been so hard and taxing on them,’’ he said. He added that the prosecution also showed it “couldn’t prove its theory on Katie after three years of really thorough investigation and preparation. This is why they have not charged Charlie and his family — the case simply isn’t there.

“We don’t charge people based on amateur speculation,’’ he continued. “Professional prosecutors rightfully understood that it couldn’t prove a case against Charlie before this trial.”

Cappleman said it will be up to Garcia’s attorneys to offer any additional information to help her target the Adelsons.

Garcia’s attorney Saam Zangeneh, however, said he believes the focus will now be tighter on Charlie Adelson, as well as his mother, Donna, and sister Wendi.

“If I was one of those three, I would be very nervous because now is when certain things that couldn’t have happened in the past are options,’’ said Zangeneh. “Figure it out.”

The jury will return on Monday to hear arguments about whether to sentence Garcia to death. They are expected to issue a ruling on Tuesday.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@Miamiherald.com and on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas




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