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GAVEL-TO-GAVEL COVERAGE: The Tallahassee Democrat will livestream each day of the trial of Katherine Magbanua from the courthouse in Tallahassee. Watch on Tallahassee.com and on our Facebook page. For best viewing experience, download the Tallahassee Democrat app to watch and receive text alerts on when to watch – from opening arguments to the verdict. If you are having trouble seeing the livestream, click here.
Katherine Magbanua on Thursday testified before a jury again in the murder of acclaimed Florida State law professor Dan Markel. And once more, she denied any role in the conspiracy from nearly a decade ago.
In the retrial in which testimony began on May 18, Magbanua faces charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and solicitation of murder in connection with Markel’s broad-daylight shooting in July 2014.
She is suspected of being the conduit between the hitmen and the family of Markel’s ex-wife Wendi Adelson, primarily her brother and mother, Charlie and Donna Adelson, who have been implicated as the masterminds and financiers of what investigators say was a murder for hire. Charlie Adelson was charged last month.
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What follows is a regularly updated reporter's notebook account of the day's proceedings from Karl Etters, who has covered the twists and turns the case for the last seven years. Follow him on Twitter here.
5:30 p.m. Prosecutors look to impeach Magbanua, defense rests, jury to get case Friday
Defense attorneys rested their case Thursday night. They argued that the state has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt their client's guilt and motioned for acquittal.
Circuit Judge Robert Wheeler denied the motion. Jurors will hear closing arguments and begin deliberations Friday.
During her cross examination of Magbanua, Assistant State Attorney Sarah Dugan zeroed in on her finances, pressing her to divulge how much she made in night clubs and dissecting her purported job as Charlie Adelson's assistant.
Dugan contended the night club work couldn’t have accounted for the thousands of dollars Magbanua deposited into her account. The clubs weren’t that successful, she said, noting the testimony of the owner of one.
“It was successful,” Magbanua said of her work at Club Fate in Miami. “We were making a lot of money. I worked there.”
Magbanua told jurors she managed Charlie Adelson’s calendar but could provide few details. She recalled setting up an appointment to develop a website for his dentistry practice and said she also collected rent for several of his properties.
Dugan showed texts that refuted that she collected rent and Magbanua admitted she had just lied to jurors.
“I should have asked you to refresh my memory,” she said.
Dugan pressed Magbanua about the Dulce Vida tape, a secret recording taken by FBI officials of her and Charlie Adelson from which Dugan played several clips.
She asked why Magbanua never divulged she knew Garcia and Luis Rivera’s nicknames, Tuto and Tato, which were mentioned by police during an undercover operation to spur conversation between suspects.
In the tape, Adelson mentioned national news without mentioning Markel’s murder. Dugan asked why Magbanua never inquired about what he meant.
Throughout the tape, Charlie Adelson discusses whether or not the police are investigating his family, which they were, and how to deal with the person who he believes is blackmailing his family.
He coaches Magbanua on what to say and what not to say once she contacts the number undercover agents provided. She never called the number.
“He really didn’t want you to give this blackmailer any information about what you knew,” Dugan said.
“He’s trying to convince me to do this,” Magbanua replied. “If I was in any way, shape or form involved in this with him why would he throw me to the cops?”
“You are his connection to these people (the killers),” Dugan said. “He you wants to take care of it.”
Dugan pointed to what she says are pretty stark coincidences in the case.
The spike in income around the murder; Charlie Adelson offering favors; him calling her when blackmailers showed up; her husband being the one who killed Markel in the murder-for-hire plot allegedly devised by her boyfriend.
"You either have the worst luck, or you did this," Dugan said.
Magbanua's 2019 testimony during her first trial was brought up frequently by both defense attorneys and prosecutors.
On redirect, Kawass asked Magbanua why put herself through testifying again.
“Because I wanted them to know the truth, and it has to come from me,” Magbanua said. “If I didn’t come up here, and I didn’t talk to my jury, I don’t even know what the outcome would be.”
3:20 p.m. Magbanua denies involvement in murder, conspiracy
Katherine Magabanua flatly denied having anything to with the murder of Dan Markel.
Testifying on her own behalf for several hours, Magbanua took the stand in the final day of trial. She first answered questions posed by her defense team. Prosecutors began their cross examination at about 2:45 p.m.
Magbanua walked jurors through her personal life with the father of her children, convicted killer Sigfredo Garcia, and Markel’s former brother-in-law who she dated, Charlie Adelson, who prosecutors say is the one behind the murder for hire plot.
“Did you have anything to do with the murder of Dan Markel?” defense attorney Tara Kawass asked Magbanua on the stand. “Did you know anything about the murder or assist anyone with killing the father of two kids?"
“No,” Magbanua replied.
Thursday was the second time she’s been on the stand in her own trial. She testified in 2019 when a hung jury ended her case in a mistrial.
Magbanua detailed her work history around the time of the murder. She worked as a bartender and bottle girl in night clubs as well as for Charlie Adelson, she testified. She said she took that job after she and Adelson's relationship dwindled as a way to qualify for insurance for her children.
Cash deposits key evidence against Magbanua, state says
Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman contends Magbanua’s work doesn’t account for a huge spike in cash deposits into her accounts in the two years after the murder.
In 2104, Magbanua deposited $46,820 in cash. In 2015, $25,523 in cash was deposited. In 2016, she put $11,921 in cash in her bank account.
She was also receiving money from Sigfredo Garcia, who was her top source of income in 2016.
In 2013, she deposited a little over $13,000 in cash.
In Aug. 2014, the month after Markel was killed, Magbanua deposited $13,200.
She testified, in contrast to the theory set forth by prosecutors, she did not meet with Garcia and his childhood friend, cooperating state witness Luis Rivera, the day after Markel was killed to deliver $100,000 in cash.
By that time, Magbanua and Garcia had broken up but still co-parenting.
“Did Charlie Adelson give you $100,000 in stapled cash to go and give to the father of your kids, who you are not with, the next day?” Kawass asked.
“If he ever did give you a stack of money, what would you say?” Kawass followed up.
“Why are you giving me that?” Magbanua replied.
Magbanua addresses the secret Dolca Vita tape
She addressed the Dulce Vida tape, a secret recording by FBI agents that prosecutors allege was her and Charlie Adelson discussing the murder and how to navigate around a blackmailer following an undercover operation dubbed “The Bump.”
Agents told jurors that they approached Donna Adelson on the street in Miami Beach, handed her an article about Markel’s murder with “$5,000” and a phone number written on it and pushed her to “take care of” his brother who was also involved.
The meeting at the Miami restaurant Dulce Vida followed the undercover operation.
“Did he (Adelson) mention Tallahassee? Did he mention a murder? Did he mention Dan Markel,” Kawass asked.
Magbanua said Adelson was pressuring her to call a phone number undercover agents provided to Donna Adelson.
“He was trying to convince me the whole time (to call the number),” she told jurors.
Prosecutors point to a flurry of phone calls that followed the meeting that were secretly recorded by the FBI. It is in those calls where Adelson and Magbanua discuss whether the blackmailer could be law enforcement and threatened to call the police.
“Why didn’t you call the police?” Kawass asked.
“Why would I call the police if somebody else is getting harassed?” Magbanua said. “What am I going to say? My friend’s mom is getting harassed and they mentioned my name. Go investigate them?”
Kawass pointed to the state’s attempts to get Magbanua to cooperate in the hopes of arresting Charlie Adelson.
Adelson was taken into custody in April in connection with Markel’s murder.
“To this day do you think he’s guilty?” Kawass asked.
“Yes ma’am.” Magbanua replied.
“Should he come forward and let the jury know you had nothing to do with this?” Kawass asked.
“Yes,” Magbanua replied. “I said in the last trial, and after all of this, you should arrest him.”
11:38 a.m. Katherine Magbanua to take the stand
Earlier Thursday, defense attorneys called just a handful of witnesses to start presenting their case to the jury.
But their most important witness will come after a lunch break.
Katherine Magbanua will testify on her own behalf, taking the stand at about 1 p.m. to explain to jurors her innocence in the murder of Dan Markel.
Thursday morning, defense attorneys called four law enforcement officials and one was a friend of Charlie Adelson.
Attorneys looked to poke holes in the theory of the murder by asking law enforcement officials about the comments of Luis Rivera which led to Magbanua’s arrest in 2016.
The defense theory is that Rivera already had just enough information to implicate Magabanua in the crime through his review of his own arrest documents.
8:30 | Day 7 Defense begins calling witnesses
Katherine Magbanua’s defense attorneys will begin presenting their case this morning.
Although they will call six witnesses, it's still unclear is whether Magbanua herself will testify before jurors.
Magbanua took the stand in the 2019 trial, where she testified she had nothing to do with Dan Markel’s murder. Shortly afterward, her longtime boyfriend and father of her children Sigfredo Garcia was convicted for the crime and later sentenced to life in prison.
Defense attorneys did not list Garcia as a witness prior to starting their case. He has been transported to Tallahassee but it does not appear he will not take the stand.
Defense attorneys are expected to recall several law enforcement officials as well as a digital forensic expert who is likely to review the web of communications between the suspects.
Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday after six full days of testimony ended with a hard-nosed FBI Special Agent Pat Sanford.
Sanford was unflappable in his belief that Magbanua helped coordinate hiring the hitmen who killed Markel, delivering $100,000 in cash to them the day after the shooting and helping to elude law enforcement for the two years before she, Garcia and his friend Luis Rivera were taken into custody.
Contact Karl Etters at email@example.com or @KarlEtters on Twitter.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Katherine Magbanua trial in Dan Markel killing: Day 7 live updates