What I Hope My Clients Learn From The Markel Murder

  • Nov 25 2019

Five years ago, a well-known criminal law professor named Dan Markel was shot to death in his garage. Prosecutors believe his ex-wife’s family paid to have him murdered because they were upset he wouldn’t allow his children to move with their mother to South Florida. However, it is not the ex-wife’s family that has been put on trial. As a criminal defense attorney, I think there are a lot of good lessons to be learned by taking a closer look at the Markel murder case. 

What’s Going On in the Markel Murder Case?

Markel and his ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, had a very contentious divorce. They continued to fight over the custody of their children, and in particular, Adelson’s desire to move the kids to the Miami area to be closer to her extended family. 

Prosecutors believe that Adelson’s mother and brother, Donna and Charlie, were so upset with Markel they promised a gal pal of Charlie’s $100,000 in cash and gifts to kill Markel. The woman in question, Katherine Magbanua, had dated Charlie but also had a long-running, on-again-off-again relationship with Sigfredo Garcia. Garcia was named as the Markel gunman by his childhood friend, Luis Rivera, the head of North Miami’s Latin Kings gang, and the government’s star witness. 

In exchange for testifying against Magbanua and Garcia, Rivera was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder and avoid the death penalty. He received a 19-year sentence and is concurrently serving a 12-year sentence in an unrelated federal racketeering case.

Magbanua and Garcia were charged and tried for first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and solicitation of murder. The two were tried together. 

The jury found Garcia guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, but not guilty of solicitation of murder. The jury was not able to reach a verdict on Magbanua’s charges, so the judge declared a mistrial. The government will take another shot at convicting her in the spring. 

If The Cops Have Evidence On You, You Are The One Going On Trial

If the prosecutors are right, and the Adelsons did pay for Markel’s death, they are just as guilty as the man who was convicted of pulling the trigger. However, no members of the Adelson family have been charged with a crime despite the fact that prosecutors believe they orchestrated Markel’s death. There is apparently not enough evidence to get a conviction. 

The government presses charges and prosecutes cases it thinks it can win. This is something every defendant in Magbanua’s situation should keep in mind. It doesn’t matter how small a role you played in a criminal act. If the government has evidence on you, they are going to go after you. They will do it to get a win and they will do it to try and pressure you to point the finger at others. 

Call Your Attorney, Not Other Suspects

Some of the evidence in the Magbanua/Garcia trial was collected by law enforcement officials after they used a tactic known as a “bump” to get suspects talking. 

An FBI agent handed Donna Adelson a news article about the Markel murder with “$5,000” and a phone number written on it. Donna handed the paper off to Charlie, who then called the number. The agent on the other line mentioned Magbanua, Garcia, and Rivera by name, and the family’s problem “up north”.

Charlie told Magbanua about the call, who then talked to Garcia about it over a wiretapped phone line. It is this web, spun by the police, that ties all of the suspects together. 

This is why I tell my clients who have been accused of a crime, or are merely suspects, to contact me if something unusual happens to them. There is a good chance the cops are trying to trip you up and get you to provide evidence. I can advise you what you should and should not do if you are “bumped” or otherwise encouraged by law enforcement officials to incriminate yourself. 

Hire Your Own Attorney, Even If You Share A Trial 

Magbanua and Garcia were tried together. This is a common situation. The government often tries co-defendants together because it is an efficient use of judicial resources. 

As a criminal defendant, this may or may not work in your favor. It does, however, highlight the importance of having your own attorney. The law does not allow co-defendants to be represented by the same attorney, and joint trials are just one reason why. The bigger reason is that it is a lawyer’s duty to zealously represent his or her own client. Sometimes that means throwing the other defendants under the bus. 

In the Markel case, Rivera and Garcia were childhood friends, but Rivera did not hesitate to testify against both Garcia and Magbanua. His attorney helped him cut a deal, and I have no doubt that Garcia and Magbanua were also offered lighter sentences if they testified against one another or against the Adelsons. Each defendant in a criminal trial needs their own defense attorney so they can weigh the options before them, and have a shot at the best possible outcome at trial. 

What’s Next for the Markel Murder Case?

I will be keeping an eye on this case as it moves forward. I’m curious to see what will happen in Magbanua’s stand-alone trial and whether any of the Adelsons will ever be charged with a crime. Either the government or the family has woven quite the tangled web, and it is interesting to watch all the people involved navigate it. 

If you or a loved one has been charged for your alleged role in a crime, and you are looking for someone to not only defend you but also help you plot a course through the tricky path before you, please contact my office

Posted in: Criminal