Day 2 trial tick-tock: Wendi Adelson grilled as she testifies under immunity | Recap

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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 faces a jury again in the murder of acclaimed Florida State law professor Dan Markel.

In the retrial that began Wednesday, 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.

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.

4:30 p.m. Rivera points to Magbanua, defense points out motive to lie

Luis Rivera detailed coming to Tallahassee with Sigfredo Garcia in two attempts to kill Markel during questioning by Cappleman.

He said he was paid by Garcia who got money from Magbanua and, although he didn’t know who, suspected there were others behind the murder.

“My understanding was Katie was involved. She was the mastermind,” said Rivera, who is a cooperating state witness who took a plea deal to provide his testimony. He is serving a 19-year sentence running concurrently to a federal sentence in an unrelated case.

Rivera told jurors Garcia never said the "dentist's family,” referring to Markel's former in-laws the Adelsons, was behind the murder. Instead he said it was "the lady."

"I knew that she was giving us the money. I called her the lady because I never knew her name."

Luis Rivera, a leader in the North Miami tribe of the Latin Kings gang and a state witness, receives help adjusting his chair as he prepares to testify in the trial of Katherine Magbanua for the murder of Dan Markel on Thursday, May 19, 2022.
Luis Rivera, a leader in the North Miami tribe of the Latin Kings gang and a state witness, receives help adjusting his chair as he prepares to testify in the trial of Katherine Magbanua for the murder of Dan Markel on Thursday, May 19, 2022.

Rivera said at first when Garcia proposed driving to Tallahassee, he thought they were going to commit a robbery.

“When we got halfway, that’s when I found out about what was going to happen,” Rivera said. “Halfway this way he explained to me it was going to be a murder to get two kids back to the lady.”

He said Garcia knew where to go because Magbanua had written Markel’s address on a piece of paper, which also had a photo of the law professor.

Magbanua’s attorneys, however, sayRivera gave prosecutors the names he needed to secure a plea deal. They contend the names were in his arrest documents filed months before Magbanua was arrested. Rivera was seeking to avoid the death penalty or life in prison by cooperating with investigators.

“You gave the two names that were on your reports that were in your discovery,” Chris DeCoste asked. "You had to advance their theory to get time off."

“Yes sir,’ Rivera replied.

DeCoste later played a tape in front of jurors of an interview in Oct. 2016 with Rivera in which he contradicted his testimony in court. In the interview with police, he said he learned the Tallahassee trip was going to be a murder with Garcia before they even left Miami.

DeCoste pushed Rivera to divulge what actually happened.

"Garcia came to you to commit this murder, but he didn’t mention Katie," DeCoste said. "You knew just cooperating against Garcia, that wouldn’t help you."

Rivera insisted throughout that he was telling the truth.

"Katie been involved the whole time, dog," he said. "She's guilty just like all three of us

His testimony is expected to continue into trial Friday morning.

1 p.m. Wendi Adelson's ex-boyfriend: 'Charlie and Wendi Adelson need to be investigated'

Wendi Adelson’s ex-boyfriend Jeffrey Lacasse told jurors about a number of chilling statements she made in the months leading up to Markel’s murder. But prosecutors also asked him about what they alluded may have been an attempt to frame him for the shooting.

Lacasse and Adelson started dating after she and Markel divorced.

He said Adelson relayed the off-color joke her brother made about buying her a TV as a divorce present because it was cheaper than a hitman. However, he said five days before Markel was shot, she made a statement which stuck with him.

Wendi Adelson and her ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Lacasse.
Wendi Adelson and her ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Lacasse.

Lacasse told jurors she said her brother, who has been charged in Markel’s murder, said while Adelson was battling in court to relocate with her children to South Florida Charlie Adelson had looked into ways to deal with the problem Markel posed to that move.

Lacasse said Wendi Adelson told him that included her brother looking into hiring a hitman to kill Markel.

“This was a separate statement. This was chilling. This wasn’t funny. It made my stomach flip,” Lacasse told jurors.

During questioning by Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman, he described he and Wendi Adelson’s back-and-forth relationship and an odd occurrence four days before the shooting.

He said they’d attended a yoga class that came after a fight and the meeting felt like their relationship was on its last leg.

He said Adelson called him back as they walked away and had “a series of questions” about his plans to travel to Tennessee on Friday July 18, 2014, the same day Markel was killed.

“She knew I was going to leave for Tennessee at 11 a.m. on Friday,” Lacasse told jurors. “Despite seemingly breaking up with me and not wanting to see me for three days, she had a deep interest in what I was going to be doing on Friday.”

The timing of his departure would have put him on Interstate 10 around the same time as the men who actually killed Markel in his metallic grey Nissan Sentra.

Cappleman pointed out that vehicle is similar in color and profile to the Pruis seen leaving Markel’s house just after shots were fired.

Dan Markel's ex-wife Wendi Adelson reacts to questions during her testimony in the trial of Katherine Magbanua on Thursday, May 19, 2022.
Dan Markel's ex-wife Wendi Adelson reacts to questions during her testimony in the trial of Katherine Magbanua on Thursday, May 19, 2022.

“Not only that, but I would have driven within a couple miles of Dan Markel’s house,” Lacasse added.

Wendi Adelson suggested Lacasse as a suspect to police in her initial interview. He was ruled out by police because of credit card and cell phone data as well as video surveillance that showed him in Tennessee.

During questioning from Katherine Magbanua’s attorney Tara Kawass, Lacasse said “If I had left town without a cell phone and not entered a store...I worried there was an effort made to look as if…”

He described to Kawass meeting Charlie Adelson only once and after Markel’s murder, suggesting that police investigate him and Wendi Adelson.

“I had a bad feeling about Charlie,” he said.  “Charlie and Wendi Adelson need to be investigated,” he recalled saying.

Noon: Adelson pressed by defense in blistering cross-examination about family involvement in murder

Magbanua’s defense attorneys pulled no punches, delivering a blistering line of questions about the implication by law enforcement that the Adelsons were behind the murder.

“You understand that until you expose your brother – that he went behind your back to hire a hitman to kill your husband – that you’ll remain guilty in the eyes of the world,” defense attorney Chris DeCoste asked.

Adelson said at the advice of her counsel she has not confronted her brother or mother, both of whom have been implicated in the murder-for-hire plot and did not believe she was guilty of a crime.

DeCoste asked if she’s read any media about the case to which Adelson replied she’d been advised not to. She later said she knew there was critical commentary out there that had disparaged her and her family.

“Are you afraid you’re going to look at it and realize your brother did this?,” DeCoste asked. “You don’t realize you could be helpful to this jury in untangling what happened to professor Markel. Will you please share the truth with this jury? You know what happened here.”

Adelson said she was uncomfortable being on the stand, noting how the media attention caused her to change her children’s last names and how she planned to change all of their names at some point.

She denied having any knowledge of the crime or her family’s involvement.

“I’ve been telling the truth,” she said. “I do not know what happened here and if I did I would have shared it with the police eight years ago.”

11 a.m. Wendi Adleson and prosecutor spar over statements about her family's involvement in Markel's murder

Prosecutors avoided the question of whether Wendi Adelson thought her brother was involved in the murder of her ex-husband Dan Markel as she testified Thursday.

Adelson appeared in what ended up being a terse line of questioning from Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman during the trial of accused murder suspect Katherine Magbanua.

Cappleman deviated from questions asked of Adelson at Magbanua’s 2019 trial in which she said she did not believe her brother, Charlie Adelson, was involved in the murder-for-hire plot that led to Markel’s shooting.

Charlie Adelson sits in jail in Leon County charged last month with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and solicitation of murder. He is accused of masterminding the plot to kill Markel.

Wendi Adelson Under questioning, Adelson briefly discussed her immunity, which prevents her testimony from being used against her but does not preclude the state from ever charging her.

The Adelson arrest:

Cappleman finished her questioning with a tense exchange in which she pressed Adelson about inconsistencies in her statements on the stand and to law enforcement the day Markel was killed.

“Do you want the culpable parties in this murder held accountable even if it involves your own family?,” Cappleman asked.

“Absolutely,” Adelson replied.

“Did you say something different in that interview about the culpability of your family,” Cappleman responded.

Adelson replied: “I’m sure when I sat for six hours completely traumatized I said a lot of things.”

“Was one of the things you said while you sat for six hours completely traumatized that you wanted the culpable parties held accountable unless it was your family?” Cappleman asked.

Adelson’s response concluded Cappleman’s line of questioning.

“I don’t think I phrased it like that and I think you’re taking my words out of context, but sure.”

Earlier, she testified about her tense divorce from Markel and her family’s involvement, particularly her mother Donna Adelson, who she said was “over-involved.”

She also discussed caustic emails from her mother in the 15 months before the murder – what Cappleman called “venomous” court documents during their divorce and her family’s desire to move her and her kids to South Florida.

Dan Markel's ex-wife Wendi Adelson reacts to questions during her testimony in the trial of Katherine Magbanua on Thursday, May 19, 2022.
Dan Markel's ex-wife Wendi Adelson reacts to questions during her testimony in the trial of Katherine Magbanua on Thursday, May 19, 2022.

She said the move was the most contentious part of the divorce for her family.

She told jurors that her brother Charlie Adelson gave her a television as a divorce present after she split up with Markel and that on July 18, 2014, the day he was killed, a repairman came to her house to fix the TV, which she said one their two sons had cracked. She acknowledged that her brother Charlie Adelson joked that buying the TV was cheaper than hiring a hitman.

Adelson acknowledged calling Markel "Jibbers," a nickname she said she used when he was being difficult though she said she didn't use it in a derogatory way. Markel was listed as "Jibbers" in her cell phone.

She said that while Markel's parents had access to the children in the two years following his death, she later cut off access because Markel's parents, Phil and Ruth Markel, looked into foster care for her children, and she was afraid they would try to take them away from her.

Ruth Markel contacted the Jewish Adoption and Family Care Options, which issued a statement saying the call was to inquire about a "backup emergency safety plan" should the Adelsons be arrested. The organization said she wanted to make sure the children would not be left with child protective services and that Ruth Markel never suggested seeking custody or removing the kids from their mother.

8:25 a.m.: Wendi Adelson and Luis Rivera to testify today

Jurors will hear from Dan Markel’s ex-wife Wendi Adelson, whose family is suspected of being behind the law professor’s murder, as she takes the stand to testify as a state witness.

Adelson is testifying under an immunity agreement with prosecutors and will take the stand this morning. Her attorney John Lauro will address the court before the jury is seated.

Because she is listed in court records as a co-conspirator in the crime, she is being protected from being called as a defense witness because she has signaled her intent to plead her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The agreement with the state prevents her testimony from being used against her but does not preclude the state from ever charging her.

Wendi Adelson, the ex-wife Florida State law professor Dan Markel who was shot and killed in 2014, gestures as she responds to a question asked about her having a type of bourbon in the back of her car on the day Markel was killed.
Wendi Adelson, the ex-wife Florida State law professor Dan Markel who was shot and killed in 2014, gestures as she responds to a question asked about her having a type of bourbon in the back of her car on the day Markel was killed.

In Magbanua’s last trial in 2019, Adelson testified about her interview with law enforcement the day Markel was killed in which she told investigators her brother, Charlie Adelson, joked about hiring a hitman as a divorce present. 

She said then she didn’t believe her brother was involved in the murder.

Charlie Adelson was arrested on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and solicitation of murder in connection with Markel’s death.

Also expected to testify Thursday is Luis Rivera.

Likely to take the stand in the afternoon, Rivera is a leader in the North Miami tribe of the Latin Kings gang and a cooperating state witness.

In exchange for his cooperation, he was sentenced to 12 years for second-degree murder in an agreement with prosecutors that led to Magbanua’s arrest in 2016.

In 2019, he described tailing Markel with Garcia. They stalked him as he dropped his kids off at Creative Preschool, went to Premier gym and drove back to his home on Trescott Drive.

He said he didn’t know the two were coming to Tallahassee for a murder until they were in the car, instead believing it was a robbery.

He told jurors then Magbanua was also involved.

“He said we were going to kill the man for some kids,” Rivera said. “For a lady because the lady wanted her kids back. “It was all Katie.”

Her attorneys are likely to grill Rivera about inconsistencies in his statements to law enforcement about the plot.

They say he is unreliable, has made statements that resemble ones already publicly known and has told investigators what they wanted to hear  not the truth.

Monday, Magbanua's attorney Chris DeCoste already began poking holes in the credibility of RIvera.

During questioning of lead investigator Craig Isom Wednesday, DeCoste lamented that Rivera may have gotten details of the state's theory about Magbanua during the normal transfer of evidence in his own case.

Isom said when Rivera was interviewed in the months before Magbanua’s arrest and  within those affidavits, there was information about the case, including the theory that Magbanua was involved.

Craig Isom, a retired Tallahassee Police Department violent crimes investigator, is recalled to testify in the trial for the murder of Florida State law professor Dan Markel Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019.
Craig Isom, a retired Tallahassee Police Department violent crimes investigator, is recalled to testify in the trial for the murder of Florida State law professor Dan Markel Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019.

That gave Rivera ample time to craft his story around what investigator’s beloved happened, which included implicating his client, DeCoste said.

“It was his word alone that resulted in the arrest of Katherine Maganua,” DeCoste said. “Didn’t you unintentionally give him the script of what to say?”

Isom replied: “If you want to look at it from that hindsight, yes.”

Contact Karl Etters at ketters@tallahassee.com or @KarlEtters on Twitter.

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Katherine Magbanua: Day 2 of Dan Markel murder retrial live updates