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Katherine Magbanua faces a jury again in the murder of acclaimed Florida State law professor Dan Markel.
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.
She is suspected of being the conduit between the hitmen and Markel’s former in-laws who have been implicated as the masterminds and financiers of what investigators say was a murder for hire.
Magbanua trial recap: Cell phone web in Magbanua retrial spotlight on Day 4
Retrial opens: Day 1 trial tick-tock of opening arguments, first witnesses
What follows is a regularly updated reporter's notebook account of the day's proceedings from Karl Etters, who has covered all the twists in the case for the last seven years. Follow him on Twitter here.
6 p.m. Jurors hear wiretaps between murder conspiracy suspects: What's unsaid looms large
Late in the afternoon, jurors heard a series of phone calls that followed an undercover FBI operation which the state says show a clear line of communication between suspects.
But it’s what’s not said in the secretly recorded phone calls that prosecutors contend should pique the interest of jurors.
After Donna Adelson is approached by undercover agents in an operation known as "The Bump" looking to spur communications, she calls Charlie Adelson.
She mentions being approached and asked about an ex-girlfriend which kicks off a series of phone calls on April 19, 2014 between them and Charlie Adelson and Magbanua.
“During the discussion, does Donna say the name Katie?” Assistant State Attorney Georgia Capplman asked FBI Special Agent Pat Sanford. “Does she mention she was handed a picture of her murdered son in law? Say the name Dan Markel?’
“No she does not,” Sanford replies.
“Who is the next ex-girlfriend he calls?” Cappleman asked.
“Katherine Magbanua,” Sanford replied.
Charlie Adelson and Magbanua speak less than two hours later and he relays the story his mother told him but adds in details she didn’t divulge, such as mentioning Magbanua and the undercover agents asking about him.
Sanford said Charlie Adelson didn’t discuss his mother being approached by agents with anyone other than Magbanua and his family.
Donna and Charlie Adelson met the next day. He also scheduled a meeting with Magbanua the same week.
Sanford will return to the stand Wednesday morning.
3:30 p.m. Jurors see 'The Bump,' undercover operation targeting Donna Adelson
Jurors got to hear the undercover operation dubbed “The Bump” in which FBI agents hoped to spur communication between suspects in the murder.
Retired agent, Oscar Jimenez, told jurors that he approached Donna Adelson on the street in Miami Beach, handed her an article about Markel’s murder with “$5,000” written on it and pushed her to “take care of” his brother who was also involved.
“We know that your family has been taking care of Katie and her friend Tuto after your problem up north was solved,” the agent said in the secretly recorded video played for jurors. “My brother is incarcerated after he helped you with your problem. We want to make sure he’s taken care of the way you’re taking care of Katie and Tuto.”
Tuto is Sigfredo Garcia's nickname.
Adelson puts the paper in her bag and walks away.
On cross examination however, DeCoste asked Jimenez if agents had laid out how they thought the following communications should go instead of allowing it to happen naturally.
“It was not done organically because you said my brother, your family, you said Katie twice, and you said Tuto twice,” DeCoste said.
“It could have been more effective to just not mention names of people to see if people are going to communicate instead of give a roadmap of what you think the communications should be.”
3 p.m.: Financial investigator: Magbanua cash deposits increased after Markel murder
Katherine Magbanua deposited a lot of cash in the years after Dan Markel was killed, financial investigator Mary Hull told jurors.
There was a noticeable uptick in cash flow as well as checks from the Adelson Institute, owned by Dan Markel’s former in-laws who have been implicated in his death, which prosecutors point to as payment for the murder.
Hull reviewed Magbanua’s bank records from 2013 to 2016.
In 2013, Magbanua deposited $13,000 in cash but Hull found that after 2014, the year Markel was killed, the defendant became flush with cash without any clear indicator she was employed.
That year, Hull found 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.
Hull said in Aug. 2014, the month after Markel was killed, Magbanua deposited $13,200 but it did not appear based on banking records, she was employed at the time. It was the highest cash deposit in the records reviewed.
The next month, she began receiving regular, bi-monthly paychecks of $407 from the Adelson Institute. But Hull said she noticed something interesting about a handful of the 44 total checks, which were signed by Donna Adeslon.
At three different points, checks spread across multiple pay periods were in sequential order, indicating they were written all at once.
“Normally, if you’re paid for time, it wouldn’t be one after another,” Hull testified.
Magbanua’s defense team claims Magbanua’s cash income comes from her work at clubs around Miami.
However, in her review of Magbanua’s bank records found only two checks deposited into her account from Club Fate, both of which bounced, meaning she never received income from the club.
In the same review, she found just $985 in cash tips deposited into the bank account.
Magbanua’s attorney Chris DeCoste however asked Hull if she could say for certain where Magbanua was getting the cash she deposited.
Hull confirmed there were no corresponding cash withdrawals from the Adelson’s business account to Magbanua’s deposits. She also said she only analyzed the data she was provided by investigators.
DeCoste’s defense of the issue was about what the records don’t show.
“It does not account for any penny of support from Sigfredo Garcia, night club jobs or Optimal Realty?” he asked. “It is speculation to say that this money came from somebody else and not her own hard work.”
“I cannot determine the source of the cash,” Hull replied.
11 a.m. Rivera's ex testifies about money drop: 'The truth is the truth'
Attorneys tried to parse out the timeline of an alleged money drop of $100,000, which prosecutors say was payment for Dan Markel’s murder.
They grilled one-time girlfriend of Luis Rivera, Jessica Rodriguez.
Her memory of the day, Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman contends, is a key piece of evidence in showing Magbanua and Sigfredo Garcia dropping off and divvying up money for the hit with Rivera.
Rodriguez, who prosecutors asked media not to film or photograph over safety concerns connected to Rivera’s Latin Kings gang affiliation, told jurors during questioning by Cappleman that the duo arrived at her apartment with a “brick.”
“Tutu came knocking on the door and brought a package,” she told jurors, calling Garcia by his nickname and saying Magbanua remained in the car.
“It was a plastic bag. I don’t know what was inside.”
She said she goaded Magbanua into coming into the house to see her newborn.
“During the time that Katherine Magbanua was coming to see the baby, did she acknowledge the package?” Cappleman asked.
Rodriguez said Magbanua asked Garcia, “did you give him the package?” Referring to Rivera.
“She was fidgety and in a rush,” Rodriguez said.
But on cross examination by defense attorney Tara Kawass, Rodriguez’s story in court differed from what she told police in summer 2016 when Garcia and Rivera were arrested.
Rodriguez learned then that Rivera was involved in the murder, but she never mentioned to Tallahassee Police Department detectives the alleged money drop.
“You never told them about Katie and Sigfredo coming to your house with a package?” Kawass asked.
“They never asked,” Rodriguez replied.
“You never mentioned it in June (2016), anything about that one time that stood out to you when Katie comes to your house and dropped off a package?” Kawass pressed.
“It never stood out to me until my mind was recollected,” she replied.
Her recollection of the alleged money exchange didn't come until an interview with detectives in Sept. 2016 just before Magbanua was charged with Markel’s murder.
Kawass contends Rivera’s defense team told Rodriguez he was facing the death penalty and pressed her about a money transaction.
“It’s not a situation where they came to you and said, ‘hey do you remember anything?’” Kawass asked.
“No,” Rodriguez replied.
Kawass read back transcripts of a police interview with Rodriguez in which she said, twice, that Magbanua and Garcia dropped off the money and left before Rivera arrived at the house and that the transaction happened in August or September, not July.
Rodriguez said she’d gotten her dates wrong during the 2016 interview and stood by her courtroom testimony.
“The truth is the truth,” Rodriguez said. “You’re always going to remember the truth.”
8:30 a.m. | Wiretaps and 'The Bump' expected in testimony today
Prosecutors are wading through their final few witnesses, intent on resting their case Wednesday, but today they’ll to spotlight the hardest hitting evidence the state says points to Magbanua.
Jurors will hear a series of FBI wiretap phone calls this afternoon between Markel's former in-laws Charlie Adelson and Donna Adelson, Magbanua and Sigfredo Garcia which follow an undercover FBI operation dubbed “The Bump.”
The Adelsons have been implicated as the masterminds and financiers behind the plot to kill the acclaimed law professor. Only Charlie Adelson, Markel's former brother-in-law, has been charged.
The FBI, eager to get suspects talking about the case, sent an undercover agent to intercept Donna Adelson and hand her a piece of paper with an article about Markel’s murder and “$5,000” written on it. The agent mentioned Magbanua, referred to killer Luis Rivera by his nickname and insinuated he wanted money to stay quiet.
What followed was phone calls between Magbanua, Charlie Adelson and Donna Adelson and convicted hitman Garcia which the state says are evidence of coordinating how to deal with the agents, who they suspected but did not know were law enforcement.
They say Magbanua and Charlie Adelson speak in code throughout to avoid explicit conversations about the crime.
Garcia was convicted of Markel’s murder in 2019 and is serving a life sentence. Rivera is a cooperating witness and took a plea deal. Rivera was already serving a 12-year sentence in an unrelated case when he pleaded guilty to murder in exchange for an additional seven years
Magbanua’s attorney Tara Kawass, however, told jurors in opening statements that the calls are cherry picked from hundreds and show her client is unaware of the murder-for-hire plot.
Depending on timing, jurors will then hear the Dulce Vida tape, a secretly recorded conversation between Charlie Adelson and Magbanua at a Miami restaurant by the same name.
The tape was recently enhanced, which led to Charlie Adelson’s arrest last month, and prosecutors say it clearly depicts he and Magbanua discussing the homicide.
During the conversation, Charlie Adelson told Magbanua that the man who intercepted his mom was a blackmailer.
Rather than going to the cops, Adelson suggested, she should get Garcia, who is the father of Magbanua’s children, to kill the man. Adelson said he’d be willing to pay “whatever it takes” to get rid of the blackmailer.
Prosecutors in their opening argument said after Adelson gave her “very precise instructions” on dealing with the blackmailer, Magbanua’s words are largely inaudible on the secret recording.
Kawass said the secret video amounts to nothing against their client and “leaves you with more of a question mark than answers.”
Also expected to testify today is Rivera’s one-time girlfriend Jessica Rodriguez, who didn't testify in the previous trial, and financial investigator Mary Hull.
Hull is likely to testify about Magbanua’s bank records around the time of the murder.
They showed a spike in cash deposits to Katherine Magbanua’s bank account, more than $41,000 in the year after Markel’s July 2014 murder and more than $17,000 in checks from the Adelson Institute, which investigators say were part of the murder-for-hire payment.
Some jailhouse phone calls admitted for impeachment, others excluded at '11th Hour'
On Monday, Circuit Judge Robert Wheeler ruled that jailhouse phone calls in the week before the trial between Kawass and Garcia cannot be used by prosecutors in trial because they constituted defense "work product."
Garcia is likely to be called to the stand by the defense later this week meaning his conversations with attorneys come with an expectation of privacy.
Prosecutors brought them and a handful of other calls between Garcia and Magbanua and he and his mom forward on Friday but Wheeler ruled the late disclosure was an intentional evidence violation.
Wheeler also denied the use of recorded phone calls in Spanish saying it was “too late in the game” to allow them to be admitted as court officials scrambled Monday to start translating them.
“We’re having to go through this whole process in the 11th hour,” Wheeler said. “The process we’re going through and the transcription is more prejudicial. I’m not going to permit those to be admitted.”
The calls which are being admitted, likely those between Garcia and Magbanua, prosecutors intend to use to challenge statements either one of them make during their testimony.
Contact Karl Etters at firstname.lastname@example.org or @KarlEtters on Twitter.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Dan Markel murder: Katherine Magbanua trial Day 5 livestream, updates