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Magbanua Trial Day 3: Rivera says Magbanua paid him after Markel killing; Police trace phone calls

A man in navy blue prison scrubs, wearing handcuffs, raises his right hand to testify
Chasity Maynard, Pool
Tallahassee Democrat
Luis Rivera testifies in the retrial of Katherine Magbanua

On the third day of Katherine Magbanua’s retrial jurors heard testimony regarding cell phone calls made in the runup to the murder of Florida State Law Professor Dan Markel.

The hired hitmen drove to Tallahassee in a rented Toyota Prius that came from a place called Comfort Rent-a-car in Miami. The phone records show Magbanua was in the area when the car was rented and made calls to one of the people implicated in the murder.

“Were you able to see who she was talking with for the time she left Comfort Rental on the way back to her residence?" asked Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman.

"We see at 8:57 there was an incoming call from Charlie Adelson, some text messages, and a 25-minute call….again with Mr. Adelson," said Tallahassee Police Department Sgt. Chris Corbett.

Magbanua is accused of being the go-between for the people hired to kill Markel, and his ex-wife’s brother, Charlie Adelson. Adelson was recently arrested for what prosecutors say was orchestrating the hit.

One of those hitmen, Luis Rivera, pled guilty to Markel's murder and is serving a concurrent sentence in federal prison.

Rivera, a childhood friend of convicted shooter Sigfredo Garcia, said Garcia hired him, and that Katherine Magbanua, who Rivera refers to as Garcia's "wife," is the person who paid them upon their return to Miami from Tallahassee.

“Who all were paid to participate om this murder?" asked Cappleman.

"It was all paid—it was me, Sigfredo, Katie got paid," Rivera said.

Magbanua is being retried for what prosecutors say is acting as the go-between for the Adelson family and the hitmen. Her attorneys say Charlie Adelson hired Garcia behind Magbanua’s back.

During cross-examination, Magbanua's attorney Chris DeCoste grilled Rivera about that scenario. DeCoste noted Garcia was angry and jealous about the relationship between Magbanua and Adelson and at one point, confronted the couple in the middle of a road. DeCoste raised the possibility that Adelson may have promised to leave Magbanua if Garcia killed Markel for him.

Rivera denied and maintained that Magbanua is the person who paid the two men. He called her Garcia’s “weakness,” saying “whatever she tells him to do, he will do it.”

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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