We have been following the investigation of the murder of Florida State Professor Dan Markel – a case that has cast suspicions on the family of his ex-wife and fellow professor Wendi Adelson. Much of this suspicion has been drawn to Adelson’s brother, Charlie Adelson. Charlie Adelson was reportedly romantically involved with Katherine Magbanua, who just happened to be the mother of two children with Sigfredo Garcia, one of the two accused hit men (with Luis Rivera). Magbanua was arrested recently and then Rivera has cut a deal to cooperate in a guilty plea. Now Rivera has reportedly given evidence that further implicates the Adelson family. Rivera pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and told police that the motive for the murder for hire was because “the lady wants her kids back.” In a truly chilling added element, Rivera said that he saw Wendi Adelson before killing her husband and that she stared directly at him and Garcia.
Adelson and Markel married in 2006 when she was a third-year law student at the University of Miami and he was a criminal law professor at FSU. News accounts say that Markel returned from a business trip to find the kids and his wife gone with divorce papers left on the bed — the start of a highly acrimonious divorce.
Police say that Garcia and Rivera were “enlisted” to kill Markel in connection with his divorce from Adelson. Police traced a rental to the scene of the crime. The police have made little secret of their suspicion of Charles Adelson and his mother Donna Adelson. The family wanted Wendi Adelson to move with the children near them. Police became suspicious after learning that Magbanua is connected to Garcia and that she spoke more than 2,000 times to Garcia in the weeks leading up to the slaying. Prosecutors now say Charlie Adelson paid for half of a $6,000 to $7,000 breast implant surgery done by Dr. Leonard Roudner, also known as “Dr. Boobner.” That surgery occurred notably in October 2014, roughly three months after Markel’s killing. Police sought the medical records despite the insistence of Charlie Adelson’s lawyer that it was “a fishing expedition.” The court did not see it that way and granted the subpoena to confirm the surgery and payments.
Magbanua’s warrant suggests a broader circle of conspirators. It says that Wendi’s mother was particularly upset after Markel had filed a motion to require that the children’s visitation with Wendi’s mother be supervised. He cited allegations by the children that she had called Markel “stupid” and asserted he was “taking her sunshines away from her.” Moreover, the cellphone records show that after Magbanua spoke with Charlie Adelson, he would often call his mother, Donna. For her part, Magbanua would call Garcia. Indeed, police cite “a flurry of communications between the alleged conspirators.”
Police also suggest that Magbanua was given a “significant increase” in cash bank deposits after the murder and she received paychecks from the family dental business. The thrust of the warrant is clearly more about the Adelson family than Magbanua. Indeed, her arrest may be an effort to flip her against the Adelsons. She has children to care for and a valuable piece of any prosecution to bargain with. At most, she is believed to have been a facilitator in the conspiracy — making her the ultimate cooperating witness to tie in the main players. If that is the tactic, it could well succeed. What is clear is that the case is entering a new and more threatening stage for the Adelsons.
Now we can add the statements of Rivera who said that he and Garcia (who reportedly pulled the trigger) saw Wendi Adelson, eyeing their car. When Garcia asked why the woman with the children was staring at them, he says that Garcia told him “Oh, that’s the lady. That’s Wendi.”
We previously discussed the police station interview of Adelson. The videotape is very emotional and at times bizarre.
In the 2014 interview, the detective tells her “That’s what this is about. There was a shooting at your home, or your ex-husband’s home. [He] has been taken to the hospital. He’s not going to survive.” Adelson bursts into tears and exclaims “Oh, my God,” Adelson says, sobbing throughout. “What happened. …I just don’t understand? How could this happen?”
Wendi tells the detective “I’m scared. I don’t know why this would happen . . . It really scares me because, I mean, if there’s someone out there that’s willing to do this to him. … I’m scared for the kids.”
Given the focus on her brother, a couple of statements stand out. She says that she is “scared someone maybe did this – not because they hate Danny but because they thought this was good somehow.” She then admits that her brother joked with her earlier that day about how a television might be cheaper than a hit man to deal with the problems in her life.
“And I was talking to him about whether it made sense to pay to fix it or I should get a new one,” she said. “And it was always his joke that, like, he knew that Danny treated me badly, and it was always his joke, he said, I looked into hiring a hit man but it was cheaper to get you this TV.”
She then repeated the joke with a repair man.
“[H]e’s my big brother, and he’s been taking care of me since I was little,” she continued. “But he would never – and I told that to the repair guy that this morning. He asked me how much it cost, and I said I didn’t know because it was a gift because my brother said it was cheaper than a hit-man. It was my divorce present. Such a horrible thing to say. I’m so, so sorry.”
She emphasizes that, while she was allegedly abused, no one would kill Markel: “But even my family who felt like I had been mistreated would never do something like this. Never.”
Adelson did not improve things for her family later in openly discussing her fear that a family member killed her estranged husband. According to news reports, she told a victim’s advocate about her mother’s surprise reaction: “My parents sounded really surprised, so that’s at least a relief. I’m just trying to think who would be angry enough to do something to him. My parents would be angry, but they’re not capable of this. Thank God. I really couldn’t handle that right now.”
Rivera has now placed Adelson near the hit men and staring directly at them. He further implicated Magbanua as acting as a go-between in the murder for hire. Rivera also indicates that Magbanua conveyed information about the travel plans of Markel and, in reference to Adelson, said “She’s making sure everything’s fine.”
Despite this very damaging information, Rivera was never actually told who paid for the hit. However, the contract was for $100,000.
The clear effort of the police is now to build a case against the Adelsons. While previously the effort seemed focused on Charlie Adelson, it now appears to be also focusing on Wendi Adelson. Clearly, someone hired these hit men and they did not spontaneously decide to kill a law professor. The obvious suspects are the Adelsons and they remain prominent references in the warrants and this confession. With Rivera’s confession and deal, the pressure will be even greater on Magbanua to cut a deal. Her cooperation may be the ultimate goal of this building investigation and the final straw before the arrest of one of the Adelsons, who are clearly the ultimate targets for the investigators.