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Group 'Justice For Dan' Seeks To Put Pressure On State Attorney For More Arrests In Markel Case

This Oct. 15, 2019 photo shows Katherine Magbanua's Defense Attorney Chris DeCoste presenting a map of the people involved in the state's murder-for-hire plot to kill Dan Markel.
Alicia Devine, Pool/Tallahassee Democrat
This Oct. 15, 2019 photo shows Katherine Magbanua's Defense Attorney Chris DeCoste presenting a map of the people involved in the state's murder-for-hire plot to kill Dan Markel.

It’s been six years since Florida State University law professor Dan Markel was killed, shot twice in the head in his own garage. His killer has been convicted, as well as one co-conspirator, and another awaits trial.

Now, a group of Markel’s friends and people interested in the case is calling for more arrests – and are petitioning the state attorney to make that happen.

Sigfredo Garcia, the man who pulled the trigger and killed Markel outside his Betton Hills home, is serving life. Luis Rivera, who drove with Garcia to Tallahassee from South Florida to carry out the murder, is serving 19 years. Katherine Magbanua, the mother of Garcia’s children, is behind bars waiting for a re-trial that’s been postponed by COVID-19.

But those three, says Markel’s friend and “Justice For Dan” founder Jason Solomon, were the pawns that carried out a murder plot. He claims the architects of that plot are still walking free.

“I think the state attorney’s office, Jack Campbell and Georgia Cappleman, have pursued a very wise and thoughtful strategy of first going after the people lower on the totem pole, so to speak, in the criminal enterprise – and then hoping that they will cooperate and provide testimony against people higher up – which we all know is the Adelson family,” Solomon said Thursday.

Wendi Adelson is Dan Markel’s ex-wife, with whom he had a bitter divorce. Prosecutors in the Markel case have been trying to prove Adelson, facilitated by her brother Charlie who had a romantic relationship with Magbanua, made payments to Garcia and Rivera through Magbanua. But Solomon says, without the right people testifying, further arrests and convictions might be best left to circumstantial evidence.

“The problem is, at this point, one of the hitmen, Garcia, and Katie Magbanua, have really repeatedly declined multiple opportunities to testify. And so, at this point it’s quite likely that the state attorney has all the evidence they’re going to have,” Solomon said.

In Solomon’s opinion, existing circumstantial evidence is strong enough to get the convictions he wants to see.

“Perhaps it makes sense, now, to move forward and arrest and charge, the people who you, the state attorney’s office, have already presented overwhelming evidence at trial, that they were responsible for the crime,” Solomon told WFSU. “The state attorney’s office is 100 percent confident in that, so is the Tallahassee Police Department, so is the FBI. The only question is when to move against them. I think now that it seems like no one will be cooperating, and this next trial of Ms. Magbanua will be at least a year away.”

State attorney Jack Campbell says the Markel hasn’t faded from his mind.

“I certainly am sympathetic to the family and friends, and their desire for us to move as fast as we can, and their desire to hold everyone accountable,” Campbell said of Solomon’s group. He tells WFSU he can’t discuss facts of the case, in terms of what evidence he has that would lead to arrests, but:

“We’re working on it daily, and have never stopped and never will stop,” the state attorney said this week.

In response to calls from Justice for Dan that the state attorney “move against” the Adelsons now, Campbell says getting it right is paramount.

“Based on double jeopardy, I think it’s important that everybody recognizes that we only get one chance to charge a case, and to proceed,” Campbell said. “If a person is acquitted, there is no double jeopardy that will allow us to prosecute them later for the same charge.”

When Solomon speaks about the Markel case, and has written about it in recent op-eds, he says a lack of arrests on affluent Adelson family members suggests a “two-tiered justice system.”

"With the Adelsons, you have people who are white, who are wealthy, who are well connected. And, we hope that’s not a reason why they haven’t been arrested and charged so far," Solomon said. "But, if the state attorney’s office doesn’t go after them, doesn’t charge them, doesn’t indict them – I worry that it sends a message that if you’re white and wealthy and well connected, then you can come into Tallahassee and get away with murder."

For that reason, Solomon has launched an online petition through Justice For Dan, in an effort to apply pressure to the state attorney. It’s collected nearly 1,000 signatures so far.

But Campbell says he can’t consider outside pressure when building a case:

“If you have prosecutors who start yielding to political pressure, and to suggestions that we should do things not based on the evidence or the law, but just because people tell us to, or because it would make us more popular – that’s where you can end up with an abuse, and you can end up with a reversal, and everything that Professor Markel - and I have dedicated my life to, being frustrated. If you start following the political winds, instead of following the evidence,” Campbell said.

Wendi Adelson and members of the Adelson family have maintained they had no involvement in Markel’s murder, through statements from their legal counsel.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.