Day One: Attorneys Give Opening Remarks In Murder Trial of FSU Professor

Sep 26, 2019

After days of narrowing down jurors from roughly 200 down to 12, opening statements began Thursday in the murder trial of Florida State University professor Dan Markel. 

Credit FSU College of Law

Markel was killed in his driveway on the morning of July 18, 2014. He’d just dropped his two kids off at daycare. The suspects are Luis Rivera, Sigfredo Garcia, and Katherine Magbanua. Rivera and Garcia both have extensive criminal histories. Garcia and Magbanua have two children together.

State Attorney Georgia Cappleman painted Garcia and Magbanua's relationship as an off-again, on-again spanning several years. She believes Magbanua asked Garcia to kill Markel for her boyfriend, Charlie Adelson.

"Prior to the murder during one of these off-again periods with Mr. Garcia, she [Magbanua] was seeing somebody else, a wealthy dentist by the name of Charlie Adelson. Charlie Adelson had a sister in Tallahassee, Wendi Adelson," says Cappleman.

Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman giving opening statements Thursday, Sept. 27, 2019, in Tallahassee, Florida, during the murder trial for Markel's death.
Credit Alicia Devine, Pool / WFSU-FM

The state claims Adelson had Magbanua orchestrate the hit to help his sister get out of a custody dispute with Dan Markel, a hit Cappleman says was requested by Donna Adelson, Charlie and Wendi’s mother, who had expressed her disdain for Markel in emails.

“Donna Adelson, in these emails, refers to Dan Markel as a religious zealot, a bastard. She says 'let’s show this F-blank-blank-blank-blank-blank-blank what will make him absolutely miserable,' and proposes a plan of action for how to threaten and/or bully and/or bribe Dan Markel into allowing Wendi to move to South Florida with the children," states Cappleman.

Shortly before he was killed, Markel wrote in a petition to the court that he did not want Donna Adelson to have unsupervised contact with his children because she had been bad-mouthing him in front of them. Markel was killed prior to the hearing for that request.

The state took two years to put together the case and until they spoke to Luis Rivera, they hadn’t linked Magbanua or the Adelson’s to the murder. Though suspicions were there and that’s something Garcia’s defense attorney Saam Zangeneh thinks is suspicious.

"You will hear statement after statement after statement of Luis Rivera, who adds and subtracts and changes his testimony from A to Z. I mean it’s crazy, how much he changes his story," explains Zangeneh.

Sigfredo Garcia's attorney Saam Zangeneh giving opening statement on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, in the Dan Markel Murder Trial.
Credit Alicia Devine, Pool / Tallahassee Democrat

Luis Rivera was already behind bars on a 12-year sentence when he took a plea deal that added seven more in exchange for his cooperation in the case.

"Rivera will tell you that he was hired by his lifelong friend, Sigfredo Garcia, who was hired by his longtime girlfriend and children’s mother, Katherine Magbanua AKA Katie, to come to Tallahassee and kill Dan Markel," states Cappleman.

But Zangeneh thinks Rivera is simply saying what the state wants to hear because he got “the deal of a lifetime”.

“The only person who can tell you that Sigfredo Garcia reportedly got out of the car and shot Dan Markel is who, it’s the guy who got the seven years,” says Zangeneh.

Magbanua’s attorney, Tara Kawass, claims the same. She says the state’s only real evidence pinning Garcia or Magbunua to the crime is Rivera - the guy who got a deal from the state. And she says it really makes no sense for Magbanua to be involved.

Katherine Magbanua's attorney Tara Kawass giving opening statement on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, in the Dan Markel Murder Trial.
Credit Alicia Devine, Pool / Tallahassee Democrat

"They want you to believe that Katherine asked...the father [of her] kids, who she was separated from at the time, to commit a murder for her new boyfriend. That makes no sense, any way you look at it, it just doesn’t make sense," explains Kawass.

The trial is expected to last for three weeks. The state is seeking the death penalty for Garcia. Arguments and testimony resume Friday at 8:45 a.m.