October 13, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Here’s the latest on the Daniel Markel slaying that I’ve previously written about here and here (Tax Prof Blog, 10/11/16). In a videotaped interview with police obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, hitman Luis Rivera stated that the reason for the murder was “Because the lady wants her two kids back,” Rivera said. “She wants full custody of the kids. That was the plan...We’re going to kill this guy for the kids.” “The lady” he referred to is Wendi Adelson, ex-wife of Daniel Markel, who was involved in a bitter child custody dispute with him.
To be clear, according to him, Rivera was given that information by his co-defendant Sigfredo Garcia. They had arrived in Tallahassee to kill Markel and were “casing” his house the day before they were to do the job. To Rivera’s surprise, they saw a young woman walking near Markel’s house eyeing them. Nervous about being identified, Rivera asked Garcia who she was and Garcia told her Wendi Adelson was there “to make sure everything's all right because he's leaving out of town tomorrow.”
Rivera said he and Garcia returned to their motel and Garcia telephoned Katherine Magbanua to verify what Adelson was doing near her ex’s house. Sure enough, Magbanua said “Yeah, everything’s straight, don’t worry about it — just make sure you get that s**t done.”
And they did, at least according to Rivera, who’s pleaded to second-degree murder and received a seven-year sentence. He’s already serving 12 years in prison on another charge.
Just last week, police arrested Magbanua and prosecutors charged her with first-degree murder.
In his interview, Rivera said the three were to split $100,000 for killing Markel - $40,000 to Garcia, $35,000 to Rivera and $25,000 to Magbanua. From here it looks as if the prosecutors’ theory of the case is that the Adelson family decided to have Markel murdered because he was demanding equal parenting time with his kids. Wendi wanted to move to the Miami area from Tallahassee, but the family court judge refused to allow her to take the children that far away. Wendi’s brother Charlie was in a relationship with Magbanua who’d previously been in a relationship with Garcia and had two children by him. Apparently, the prosecution will allege that someone in the Adelson family asked Magbanua about a hitman and she suggested her ex, Sigfredo Garcia, who had gang contacts in the Miami area. Somehow the Adelsons got together $100,000 in cash and the deed was done.
Such, at any rate, is my reading of the prosecution’s theory of the case.
As I’ve said before, there’s not a lot of hard evidence to back it up. As Garcia’s lawyer said, “The State Attorney’s Office has gone all in with Luis Rivera, and they’re either going to sink with him or swim with him.” Put simply, before Rivera made his plea deal, the state didn’t have enough evidence to convict either Rivera or Garcia, much less Magbanua and still less any of the Adelsons.
But prosecutors must have had enough to convince Rivera and his lawyer that a conviction was possible. Otherwise, why would he have pleaded to any offense at all?
So, the first domino has fallen and prosecutors hope the second will too. The second domino is Magbanua. She’s charged with murder and has two young children. With Rivera already on record, her situation is serious indeed. But of course her lawyer will inform her that Rivera’s identification of her as part of the conspiracy is pure hearsay. He doesn’t know her, or at least not well, and he only claims that Garcia told him of her involvement. Of course she may have received the $25,000 shortly after the murder, but that could be explained by Charlie Adelson as a gift to his girlfriend to help her with her kids or some other benign reason.
As I said last time, the key to bringing charges against any of the Adelsons is Magbanua. Prosecutors don’t seem to have a lot on her except the testimony of a thug like Rivera, and much of that is hearsay. If they have more, she may be powerfully motivated to cut a deal. Such a deal would necessarily include fingering one or more of the Adelsons, Wendi, brother Charlie and/or mother Donna.
Will Magbanua go to the wall for them? Who knows? But in the very near future, we’ll find out. At this point, I view this case as anything but a slam dunk for the state except against Garcia and possibly not even him. But prosecutors gave Rivera just seven years for the cold-blooded murder of a stranger for money. Magbanua, who hasn’t killed anyone and who has two kids to care for, can probably count on even greater leniency if she implicates any of the Adelsons.
And that of course is the aim of the District Attorney’s office. Prosecutors clearly have their sights on the Adelsons and Magbanua is the sine qua non of that endeavor.
On that note, take a look at the web page linked to above. The writer, Paul Caron, included photos of Rivera and Wendi Adelson side-by-side. Compare the two as if you were a juror in a murder trial in which Wendi is the defendant. Who is likely to receive your sympathy, your trust, your belief? In the end, that may be all this case comes down to.
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