Donna Adelson, ex-mother-in-law of murdered Florida State University law professor, arrested in South Florida

Arrest comes week after son found guilty in 2014 murder-for-hire of Daniel Markel
Donna Adelson arrest photo
Posted at 9:42 AM, Nov 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-14 17:43:40-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The former mother-in-law of a Florida State University law professor who was fatally shot almost a decade ago has been arrested in Miami-Dade County, jail records show.

Donna Adelson, 73, was booked into the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center late Monday on out-of-county warrant. She's the mother of Charlie Adelson, who was convicted last week in the 2014 murder-for-hire killing of FSU law professor Daniel Markel.

Tallahassee State Attorney Jack Campbell told the Tallahassee Democrat that Donna Adelson was arrested at Miami International Airport, where she and her husband had one-way plane tickets to Vietnam.

Campbell told the newspaper that Donna Adelson was trying to flee the country, which will be part of the state's evidence in its case against her.

Her arrest came exactly one week after a Tallahassee jury found Charlie Adelson guilty on all counts for his role in Markel's murder. Charlie Adelson is a Fort Lauderdale dentist and the victim's former brother-in-law.

Charlie Adelson puts hands in face during closing statements in his murder trial, Nov. 6, 2023
Charlie Adelson rubs his face as he waits for his defense attorney Daniel Rashbaum to present closing arguments in his trial for the murder of Dan Markel on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in Tallahassee, Fla.

It's the fifth arrest in connection with Markel's murder.

 Murder-for-hire plot unraveled

A Tallahassee Police Department affidavit said Markel's death was the result of the 2013 contentious divorce from Wendi Adelson, a lawyer who had moved to South Florida to be closer to her family.

Investigators linked Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera to the crime after tracing a Toyota Prius that was seen on surveillance videos following Markel's car to his home. Cellphone records and other evidence established that Garcia and Rivera were in Tallahassee on the day that Markel was killed.

Garcia, who was convicted in 2019, fathered two children with Katherine Magbanua, who had been in a relationship with Charlie Adelson at the time of Markel's shooting.

Rivera pleaded guilty for his role in the 2014 shooting and testified against Garcia and Magbanua in exchange for a lesser sentence.

Police said Garcia's cellphone was used to call Magbanua about 2,700 times between May 1 and July 19.

The Prius that was seen in the surveillance videos was rented by Rivera in North Miami, and the SunPass transponder in the car documented its trip — at the westbound Interstate 75 toll plaza in Broward County at 2:18 p.m. on July 16 and at the westbound I-75 toll plaza in Collier County at 5:23 p.m. on July 18, the affidavit said.

Markel had been involved in a bitter divorce with Wendi Adelson, who filed for divorce in 2012. Markel later learned that she and their two children had moved to her parents' home in Coral Springs.

Daniel Markel fatally shot in 2014
Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel was fatally shot at his Tallahassee home in July 2014.

In June 2013, a Leon County judge formally denied Wendi Adelson's motion for relocation with the children.

"Email evidence indicates Wendi's parents, especially her mother, wanted Wendi to coerce Markel into allowing the relocation to South Florida," the affidavit said.

Early in 2014, Markel sought to enforce the judge's ruling, claiming that his ex-mother-in-law "made disparaging remarks about him to his sons."

Markel asked the court to stop Wendi Adelson's mother from having unsupervised time with her grandchildren and to limit the amount of time she spent with them to prevent further disparaging remarks.

A hearing on the issue was postponed and hadn't been rescheduled when Markel was killed.

According to a criminal complaint filed after Magbanua's arrest in 2016, she started receiving paychecks from the Adelson Institute for Aesthetics & Implant Dentistry after Markel's death. The checks, each handwritten and signed by Wendi and Donna Adelson, in the amount of $407.58, started in September 2014 and continued through at least January 2016.

Investigators reviewed Magbanua's bank accounts and noticed "a significant increase in cash deposits" after Markel's death.

Magbanua, who was found guilty in her second trial last year, and Garcia were sentenced to life in prison.

During Garcia's trial, Wendi Adelson testified that she didn't believe her brother had been involved in Markel's murder. She said that her brother gave her a television as a divorce present and that he joked it had been cheaper than hiring a hit man.

Wendi Adelson testifies during 2019 murder trial
Wendi Adelson, the ex-wife Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel, who was shot and killed in 2014, responds to a question asked about her having a type of bourbon in the back of her car on the day Markel was killed.

Charlie Adelson, who was arrested last year, testified during his trial that he had nothing to do with the murder. He claimed Magbanua told him her ex-boyfriend had committed the crime and that she extorted him, saying he needed to pay more than $300,000 in 48 hours or he also would be killed.

After Charlie Adelson was convicted, Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman told reporters that the investigation was ongoing.

"We'll see going forward whether anything more arises," Cappleman said.

Donna Adelson was being held without bond.