A Florida woman who arranged a hit on her lover’s former brother-in-law has been jailed for life without parole.
Katherine D. Magbanua, 37, was handed the stiff sentence by a Tallahassee judge Friday after she was convicted of arranging the execution of FSU law professor Daniel Markel in Tallahassee in July 2014.
Magbanua is said to have done so at the behest of her dentist lover, Charles Adelson. Adelson’s sister Wendi had been married to Markel.
The hit on Markel is said to have been taken out so Wendi could gain full custody of their two children. They divorced acrimoniously in 2013, the year before Markel’s murder, and were ordered to share custody jointly.
Charles Adelson faces first-degree murder and conspiracy charges over the hit on his ex-brother in law, and appeared in court for a case management hearing Friday.
Markel was killed by Sigfredo Garcia, an ex of Magbanua’s, and the father of her children. Garcia’s friend Luis Rivera also took part in the hit. Neither man knew Markel, and both have since been jailed for his murder.
‘Good luck to you ma’am,’ Judge Robert Wheeler told Magbanua, who sat silently, wiping tears from her face, as the sentence was delivered.
Markel was gunned down in his garage by two men, Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera, whom prosecutors say Adelson hired through Magbanua, the former girlfriend and employee of Adelson, and the mother of Garcia’s two children.
Garcia is serving a life sentence after being convicted of first-degree murder in 2019.
Rivera is serving a 19-year sentence after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for testifying against Garcia and Magbanua.
Magbanua’s first trial in 2019 concluded in a hung jury. But at her retrial in May, a jury of 12 peers unanimously found her guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy and solicitation.
The murder conviction carried an automatic life sentence, and the only question at Friday’s hearing was how much time Magbanua would get for the other two counts.
Her defense attorney Tara Kawass unsuccessfully requested the minimum sentence for the additional charges, 172.5 months, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Though Magbanua did not speak at sentencing, her attorney delivered a statement on her behalf expressing remorse for the heinous plot.
‘She does think about Dan Markel every single day she does think about his kids every single day,’ Kawass said. ‘Not a day goes by that she’s doesn’t express how her heart is broken for the Markel family.’
As well, Markel’s sister, Shelly Markel, gave a victim impact statement at the hearing, expressing the family’s grief following his murder.
‘Eight years he has not been with us and in those eight years we continue to suffer,’ she told the court via video conference.
‘His murder has been horrible for me and my family. Shocking, surreal and so hard to understand. His future was cut short. Imagine what was ahead of him.’
Years after the diabolical murder unfolded, Adelson was finally arrested and charged in April of this year after prosecutors said new evidence emerged.
Adelson and other members of his family had long been cited by prosecutors and investigators as potential suspects in the July 18, 2014, killing of FSU professor Markel at his Tallahassee home.
In April, Adelson was indicted by a grand jury on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy, and solicitation to murder.
Prosecutors say that technicians were able to enhance the sound on a 2016 video recording made secretly of him talking to Magbanua inside a noisy South Florida restaurant, La Dolce Vita.
The Adelson family had been under surveillance by investigators trying to solve Markel’s killing.
‘This recording includes statements by Charles Adelson which can be heard clearly for the first time,’ Leon County State Attorney Jack Campbell said. He did not say specifically what the recording includes.
Adelson’s attorney Daniel Rashbaum argued in a motion this week that the recordings offer no proof of Adelson’s guilt.
‘The state’s case is based exclusively on circumstantial evidence,’ Rashbaum wrote in the motion.
‘The Dolce recording is emblematic of the state’s inability to meet its burden here, as the recording on its face, suggests an alternative theory: not that Mr. Adelson is guilty, but that he had no knowledge of, connection to or involvement in the conspiracy to kill Professor Markel.’
Prosecutors said that Magbanua enlisted Garcia to take part in a $100,000 hit financed by Markel’s in-laws, which they have denied.
Garcia then enlisted Rivera, a childhood friend, to help. Prosecutors said the two men drove from South Florida to Tallahassee to execute the plan, stalking Markel on the morning of the shooting as he dropped off his children at day care and stopped at the gym.
When Markel returned home, Garcia shot him as he sat in his car talking on his cellphone.
Wendi Adelson had told authorities her brother had joked about hiring a hit man as a divorce present but had decided instead to buy her a television.
Following the murder, FBI agents surreptitiously recorded a conversation between Magbanua and Charlie Adelson at the La Dolce Vita restaurant in Miami in 2016.
There had been contentious legal debate over the admissibility of the recording because parts of the conversation were inaudible, but a newly enhanced version was presented before Magbanua’s second trial.
Magbanua was not only in a romantic relationship with Charlie Adelson. She also had two children with Sigfredo Garcia, one of the convicted hit men who killed Markel.
Tallahassee police have long alleged that the motive for the murder was the bitter divorce between Markel and Adelson.
Adelson’s family were desperate to have their daughter and the couple’s two children move closer to them in south Florida, but Markel had successfully fought his ex-wife’s attempt to relocate with the children.
An affidavit for Magbanua’s arrest alleged she had deposited over $50,000 in cash into her bank account in the 16 months after the murder.
Police previously released probable cause affidavits that revealed Garcia called Magbanua an astonishing 2,700 times in the three months before Markel’s murder.
There were also a number of phone calls on July 1, 2014, 17 days before Markel was killed, between Adelson, Magbanua, Garcia and a phone registered to Harvey Adelson, Markel’s former father-in-law, the affidavit states.
A number of phone calls also occurred between midnight and 1am among Adelson, his mother Donna, Magbanua, and Garcia on July 18, the day Markel was murdered.
A probable cause affidavit also reveals that in the days and months after the murder Garcia purchased a new car and motorcycle, according to WCTV.
Records show Rivera also purchased a motorcycle within 10 days of the murder.
Meanwhile, Magbanua began receiving checks from Adelson and his father’s dental practice, the Adelson Institute, from September 2014 to January 2016.