Daniel Markel was gunned down in his driveway in 2014 amid a custody dispute with his ex-wife
Investigators believe Katherine Magbanua facilitated murder-for-hire
A woman was arrested Saturday in connection with the 2014 death of a renowned Florida State University Law School professor.
Investigators say Katherine Magbanua, 31, helped arrange the murder of Daniel Markel amid a bitter custody dispute with his ex-wife, Wendi Adelson.
After the couple divorced in 2013, Markel prevailed against the Adelson family’s attempts to move Wendi and the two Markel children from Tallahassee to South Florida, where the Adelsons live, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Investigators described Magbanua as “the only tie” between the two accused shooters and the Adelson family. Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera were charged with capital murder in May in Markel’s death and are being held without bond.
Magbanua was arrested in Broward County, where she lives, on a charge of first-degree murder. Magbanua’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She will be brought to Leon County to face the charge, CNN affiliate WCTV said.
The probable cause affidavit describing the investigation suggests Magbanua was compensated for her alleged involvement.
In the 12 months before Markel’s death, Magbanua made cash deposits totaling $15,000. In the 12 months after his death, she made cash deposits totaling $44,000, in addition to paychecks from the Adelson family dental practice. The windfall led to some big-ticket purchases, the affidavit states, including a new car and breast augmentation surgery.
Family dispute turns deadly?
Investigators believe Magbanua enlisted Garcia and Rivera to kill Markel at the Adelson family’s behest. She had a prior romantic relationship with Wendi Adelson’s brother, Charlie Adelson. She was one of the top contacts in Charlie Adelson’s phone. At the time of the shooting she was living with Garcia, the father of her two children.
Markel was shot twice in the head while sitting in his car on July 18, 2014. Markel’s prominence as a criminal justice scholar catapulted his death into the national spotlight, dredging up details of an acrimonious divorce and custody battle.
Wendi Adelson’s mother, Donna Adelson, tried to persuade her daughter to offer Markel $1 million to move the children, the affidavit states. She also suggested lying to him by saying the children could be converted from Judaism to Catholicism if they stayed in Tallahassee. When Wendi refused those tactics, “Donna was extremely upset,” the affidavit says.
Before Markel’s death the couple was due in court to argue Markel’s request for supervised visitation for Donna Adelson. Markel alleged his children had told him their grandmother “hated” Markel for “taking her sunshines away from her.”
After his death, Wendi Adelson changed the children’s surnames from Markel to Adelson and removed her son’s middle name of Markel’s deceased grandmother.
Wendi Adelson told investigators that her brother, Charlie Adelson, had joked about hiring a hit man to kill Markel, the affidavit states. He allegedly told her it would be cheaper to “buy her a television as a divorce gift.” She told investigators she did not think her brother would actually commit the crime.
Cell phones and surveillance videos provide clues
Cell phone records show numerous contacts between Magbanua and both Charlie Adelson and Garcia in the weeks before Markel’s death, the affidavit says.
Evidence from their cellular service providers suggests they left North Miami on July 16 and arrived in Tallahassee shortly after midnight on July 17, the day before the shooting.
Further cell phone records suggest the two were in the area of Markel’s home on July 17. It also puts them near the health club Markel visited on July 18 before he was shot to death, the affidavit states.
The morning of his death, Markel dropped off his two children at day care about 5 miles from his home around 8:50 a.m., the affidavit states. He then visited the gym, arriving at 9:12 a.m. and leaving around 10:38 a.m.
Surveillance videos show a Toyota Prius rented in Rivera’s name trailing Markel’s car to the health club, waiting in the parking lot, and following him home. A neighbor who heard the shots reported seeing a car resembling a Prius pulling out of Markel’s driveway after the shooting.
Investigators believe the men turned their phones off before 10 a.m. and turned them back on after the shooting around 12:30 p.m. Cell phone records show Magbanua was the first person Garcia called after turning his phone on, from the area of Lake City, Florida.
Wendi Adelson initially cooperated with police, the affidavit says. She told investigators she wanted to relocate to South Florida with her children but she felt that her in-laws would suspect she was involved in Markel’s death because the court had denied her the ability to move there previously.
While at the police station, Wendi asked to call her parents. After she called her mother, cell phone records indicate Donna Adelson called Charlie Adelson. After speaking to his mother, cell phone records indicate Charlie Adelson called Magbanua.