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After nearly eight hours of deliberation, jurors found Katherine Magbanua guilty of the July 2014 murder of Florida State law professor Dan Markel.
She was unanimously convicted of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and solicitation of murder.
Magbanua wept alongside her Miami defense team of Chris DeCoste, Tara Kawass and Kristen Kawass after the verdict was read. They could not be reached for comment afterward.
Ruth Markel hugged prosecutors inside the courtroom, saying, “You did it. You did it. That’s fantastic,” to Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman as they hugged.
After the verdict, Cappleman lauded investigators and the work that goes into holding two trials for the same defendant.
She said she hopes the eight-year path to this conviction gives Markel's family comfort in seeing people responsible for his murder brought to justice.
"It's very thrilling and gratifying to be able to get some justice for Dan's family," Cappleman said. "They've been through hell and back and I'm just thrilled to be able to give them a piece of peace in their lives."
Phil Markel said he was grateful to the Tallahassee community and the tireless work of investigators.
"It's been a long road," he said. "The wheels of justice turn very, very slowly but we're grateful they're still turning."
Prosecutors did not divulge whether they expect more arrests in the case, but say they are now setting their sights on Markel's former brother-in-law Charlie Adelson, who was arrested on murder charges last month.
In a statement, Phil and Ruth Markel said they will continue to fight for justice and the opportunity to see their grandchildren, who they haven't seen since 2016.
Dan Markel murder: Day 7 of Katherine Magbanua trial
"There is more work ahead to ensure that each and every person responsible for Danny’s barbaric murder is brought to justice and held accountable," the Markels said. "Until that day, we will continue to fight for complete justice and to spend time with with our grandchildren."
Magbanua, who will be sentenced in about a month, is the suspected link between hitmen Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera and the family of the Markel’s ex-wife Wendi Adelson.
The Adelson family, primarily Charlie and Donna Adelson, have been implicated as the financiers and masterminds behind the crime, intent on killing Markel to solve a tense custody battle between him and Wendi Adelson.
Magbanua was dating Charlie Adelson at the time of the murder and was purportedly working at his South Florida dental office. She and Garcia, with whom she has two children, had broken up.
Rivera and Garcia drove to Tallahassee in a rented Toyota Prius and stalked Markel as he dropped his kids off at daycare and went to the gym. At about 10 a.m., they pulled into Markel's driveway and shot him while he sat in his car. They then fled back to Miami.
Magbanua testified in her own defense for roughly five hours Thursday.
In the retrial of Katherine Magbanua for the murder of Florida State law professor Dan Markel, in which testimony began 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. Here's Day 8 of live coverage.
1:45 p.m. Attorneys deliver closing arguments, Jurors begin deliberations
A jury of seven men and five women began deliberations in the murder trial of Katherine Magbanua shortly before 1 p.m. Friday after several hours of closing arguments from attorneys.
Early in their deliberations, jurors asked Circuit Judge Robert Wheeler for a list of the evidence in the case to help them navigate the extensive collection of communications in the case in which Magbanua is accused of being a conspirator in the murder of Florida State law professor Dan Markel nearly a decade ago.
In the retrial that 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.
As of 3 p.m. Friday, however, the jurors were still gathered behind closed doors. Their afternoon deliberations followed closing arguments from prosecutors and Magbanua's legal team
Defense attorney Tara Kawass contended the state is looking to convict the wrong person in the case.
But Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman said there is only one truth in the case; Magbanua is involved.
“She’s as guilty as everyone else that had a part in this crime,” Cappleman told jurors. “No amount of explanations and excuses for the evidence can change it.”
As she closed her arguments, she held up a photo of Dan Markel.
“This is what this case is about,” she said. “Find her guilty.”
She wound through the mountain of evidence in the case that she said points to Magbanua as the connection between the killers, her longtime boyfriend and father of her children Sigfredo Garcia and his friend Luis Rivera, and Markel’s estranged in-laws who police say financed and masterminded the plot.
The motive was a tense custody battle between Markel and his ex-wife Wendi Adelson. Police say her brother Charlie Adelson hired Magbanua to enlist the hitmen to drive from Miami to Tallahassee to kill Markel on July 18, 2014.
Magbanua acted as a go-between, Cappleman contends, speaking in code with Adelson and Garcia as she relayed information. She ferried the $100,000 paid for the murder the next day and was caught on FBI wiretaps in a web of communications that objectively showed the connections between them.
Cappleman pointed to a secretly recorded video of Charlie Adelson and Magbanua at a Miami restaurant.
The meeting happened shortly after an undercover FBI agent posing as a blackmailer approached Adelson’s mother, Donna Adelson, and handed her a newspaper article about Markel with $5,000 and a phone number to call. The agent mentioned Magbanua and Garcia at the time of the operation, dubbed "The Bump," which was designed to get the suspects talking.
At the restaurant, Adelson told her the person who approached his mom was either a blackmailer or a cop. He mentioned bugged phones and said if law enforcement had any evidence, they’d already be at the airport to presumably flee.
Cappleman said the line of communication investigators thought would happen in the undercover operation did. Magbanua, Adelson and Garcia all communicate afterward.
“It goes boom. boom. Boom right down the line,” Cappleman said. “And she’s in the middle of it.”
In totality, her actions led to Markel’s brutal murder, she told jurors.
“The defendant didn’t just ask Sigfredo Garcia to do this and paid him for it, she didn’t just take care of Charlie Adelson’s family problem and turn it into action, she got the thing done. Dan Markel is dead,” Cappleman said. “All the planning and all the meetings came to fruition when Sigfredo Garcia fired those two shots into Dan Markel’s vehicle and devastated so many lives.”
Defense attorney Kawass told jurors they are only being given parts of the evidence that point to Magbanua.
“This is an anatomy of a wrongful prosecution,” Kawass told jurors.
She said the initial investigation led police to Rivera and Garcia but those same investigators needed a way to connect them to their true suspects, the Adelson family.
“The easiest answer they could find and went with was Katherine Magabanua,” she continued. “Once they had Rivera and Garcia, they started to build their case around their theory that this must have gone through her.”
But that theory is flawed, Kawass told jurors, in that the state hasn’t presented a “smoking gun.”
She points to evidence of Magbanua, Adelson and Garcia all communicating around the day of the murder. What was presented to jurors was only their communications, which made it look like the calls and texts were happening in quick succession with no others in between.
Such a pattern would have been normal for a woman communicating with her children father and her boyfriend.
She said the influx of money was normal for people in the service industry like Magbanua, who worked a a series of Miami nightclubs.
Investigators didn’t intently investigate the clubs until 2020, four years after Magbanua was taken into custody.
Kawass said insertion of opinion by prosecutors about what Magbanua and Charlie Adelson say on the the Dulce Vida, tape don’t tell an accurate picture of their client.
“The fact they have to play a recording and constantly tell you what they think he’s saying is not evidence,” she said.
The state didn’t provide all of the evidence gathered in the case, she said.
“If they’re that confident in their case why didn’t they show you everything. They should give you enough reliable concrete evidence so you can figure it out,” Kawass continued. “Their act of hiding it alone proves that she is innocent.”
8:30 a.m. | Closing arguments to begin in murder trial of Katherine Magbanua
Jurors will begin deliberations later today in Katherine Magbanua’s trial, trying to determine whether she is responsible for being the link to the killers who shot Florida State law professor Dan Markel.
After seven full days of testimony, prosecutors looked to show increases in money flowing to Magbanua’s bank accounts and what they say were covert discussions over an FBI wiretap as evidence she helped hire her longtime boyfriend, Sigfredo Garcia, to kill Markel in a murder-for-hire plot perpetrated by the acclaimed legal scholar’s former in-laws.
Garcia was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2019. His friend, Luis Rivera, signed a plea agreement for his cooperation in the case and testified as one of the state's key witness.
He got a 19-year sentence, though it runs concurrently with a 12-year sentence he was already serving in an unrelated federal case.
But her attorneys, who presented their case in a marathon day Thursday, say her money came from her work in nightclubs in Miami and from Garcia.
The secret recordings, defense attorneys Chris DeCoste and Tara Kawass say, in fact show her being coerced into helping her boyfriend at the time, Markel’s former brother-in-law Charlie Adelson, as police tightened their case against him.
Magbanua, 37, testified Thursday as the last witness in the case. Throughout nearly five hours of testimony she denied any involvement in Markel’s murder or helping in the conspiracy.
Throughout the two-week trial, Markel’s family — his mother, father and sister, Ruth, Phil and Shelly Markel — have been in the courtroom.
Kawass will present closing arguments for the defense. Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman will close for the state.
Both will each get 90 minutes to present closing arguments to the 12-person jury. They will begin after jurors are walked through jury instructions in the case.
Jurors are likely to get the case at about noon.
Contact Karl Etters at firstname.lastname@example.org or @KarlEtters on Twitter.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Katherine Magbanua found guilty in murder of Dan Markel: Recap