A jury has found a Florida man guilty of first-degree murder but has deadlocked on a second defendant in the slaying of a Florida State University law professor.
Sigfredo Garcia was found guilty on Friday in Tallahassee, but the jury was hung on Katherine Magbanua, whom prosecutors say helped orchestrate the slaying of professor Dan Markel five years ago.
Sentencing hearings for Garcia are set to begin Monday at the Leon County Courthouse. He could face the death penalty. It is unclear whether prosecutors will retry their case against Magbanua.
Prosecutors have implied that Magbanua coordinated the murders on behalf of relatives of Markel’s ex-wife, Wendi Adelson — though no charges were ever brought against the family.
Sigfredo Garcia (left) was found guilty on Friday in Tallahassee, but the jury was hung on Katherine Magbanua (right), whom prosecutors say helped orchestrate the slaying
Florida State University law professor Dan Markle was shot twice in the head in his garage
Suspect Katherine Magbanua (left) is seen with Markle’s ex-wife Wendi Adelson. Prosecutors implied that Adelson’s family had a role in financing the murder, but have not charged them
The jury declined to convict Garcia on a solicitation charge, finding him guilty only of carrying out the broad-daylight murder at Markel’s home.
Magbanua broke down in tears as the jury handed down its verdict for Garcia, the father of her two children.
The second man, Luis Rivera, is already serving seven years in prison for second-degree murder after reaching a plea deal to testify against Magbanua and Garcia, his childhood friend.
During the trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys presented jurors a case rife with family squabbles, failed romantic relationships, drug trafficking and a litany of personal dramas.
‘Dan Markel, the father of two young boys, highly respected attorney at law and professor at the Florida State University College of Law was shot twice in the head in his own garage in broad daylight,’ Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman, told the 12-member jury in opening arguments.
‘Who would do such a thing?’ she asked.
A chart prepared by prosecutors shows the web of relationships the murder suspects have with family members of Markel’s ex-wife, whom he was engaged in a custody battle with
Markle was locked in a vicious custody battle with Adelson (above) – though her family members with ties to the murder suspects have never been charged
Markel was shot to death after returning home from the gym and dropping off his two young children at day care on the morning of July 19, 2014, in Florida’s capital.
The first witness on the trial’s opening day recounted how he grew suspicious after seeing what appeared to be a light-colored Prius speed away and how he went into his neighbor’s garage to discover a gruesome scene: shards of glass on the floor and Markel in his car groaning and bleeding from the head – still alive but struggling for life.
‘Danny, Danny – what’s happened?’ the witness, James Geiger, recalled yelling into the Markel’s running car. ‘There was no response. His head was slowly moving from left to right.’
The car was later traced to Rivera through a rental agreement. Further investigation led authorities to Garcia and Magbanua.
Rivera and Garcia were childhood friends, and Garcia is the father of Magbanua’s two children. The government said the three were paid $100,000 to carry out Markel’s execution.
Markle was slain in broad daylight in his garage (above) after returning from the gym
Witnesses saw this Prius fleeing from the scene. Both Rivera and Garcia’s cell phone numbers were listed on the rental contract for the Prius after investigators tracked it down
Luis Rivera (left) pleaded guilty and testified against Sigfredo Garcia (right)
Rivera, under a plea deal, would later be a witness against Garcia and Magbanua.
Saam Zangeneh, Garcia’s attorney, attacked Rivera’s credibility.
Much of the government’s case against the two defendants relies on the testimony of Rivera, and Zangeneh asserted that the government is wrongly relying on Rivera, who he said was a known gang member.
‘A gangster killed Dan Markel,’ Zangeneh told jurors. ‘Luis Rivera killed Dan Markel.’
But Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman said Garcia pulled the trigger on the gun that killed Markel and said Magbanua had enlisted the two men to execute the hit on behalf of the financiers who paid $100,0000.
Although the trial focused on Garcia and Magbanua, the courtroom drama was even more intriguing because of who was not on trial – despite repeated suggestions by prosecutors and defense attorneys of who might have been behind Markel’s slaying.
‘What enemies had Mr. Markel made that set in motion such a brutal act?’ Cappleman asked.
The answer, she said: ‘His own family.’
Florida State University Law Professor Dan Markel was fatally shot on July 18, 2014
Wendi Adelson, the ex-wife Florida State law professor Dan Markel who was shot and killed in 2014, chuckles as she is asked about her brother Charlie Adelson’s girlfriends
Charlie Adelson, Markel’s brother-in-law, dated Katherine Magbanua, who had two children the with the man convicted on Friday of murdering the law professor
Sigfredo Garcia reacts in court on Friday. He faces the death penalty at sentencing
Indeed, lawyers for Magbanua and Garcia said their clients were only on trial because authorities had failed to bring charges against the relatives of Markel’s ex-wife, Wendi Adelson.
According to testimony, Magbanua had been romantically involved with Adelson’s brother, Charlie. Prosecutors say bad blood between the Adelsons and Markel led to murder.
However, no charges have been brought against any of Markel’s former in-laws.
Chris DeCoste, one of Magbanua’s attorneys, called prosecutors so desperate for a conviction that they put an innocent woman on trial.
‘There’s no amount of money you could pay a mother of two for her to risk never seeing her children again,’ DeCoste said.
‘She’s been in custody for three years. It’s time for her to go home.’