Woman charged in FSU law professor's killing to stay in jail

Posted at 1:53 PM, Dec 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-10 13:53:15-05

After a nearly daylong hearing, a Florida judge refused Friday to release a woman jailed on accusations that she played a pivotal role in the killing of a university law professor.

Katherine Magbanua is alleged to have helped orchestrate hiring two men who traveled from South Florida to shoot Florida State University professor Daniel Markel, a plot that police say was sparked by a bitter divorce and family squabbles.

Attorneys for Magbanua argued there's not enough evidence to justify keeping the Miami woman locked up ahead of her February trial, but prosecutors countered that she could flee the country if she were released.

During the hearing, Magbanua's attorneys questioned a Tallahassee police investigator about the testimony of one of the suspects in Markel's killing who is now a key witness in the case. They pointed out that Luis Rivera gave conflicting statements on when he learned about the plot and how he was paid. They also asserted that he testified against Magbanua to get an "unbelievable" reduction in his sentence. Rivera will serve a 19 year sentence, most of which will run simultaneously to an unrelated federal charge.

Attorney Christopher DeCoste said he was "stunned" that Circuit Court Judge James Hankinson denied a request to let Magbanua post bond and leave jail.

"In this case, justice took a back seat to ego and politics a long time ago," said DeCoste, who said he would appeal the ruling.

Markel, a law scholar born in Toronto, was gunned down in his garage in the middle of the day in July 2014. It took nearly two years before police - with help from the FBI - arrested anyone. Sigfredo Garcia, who has had two children with Magbanua, was charged in late May, followed shortly by the arrest of Rivera, who was already in a federal prison serving a racketeering sentence for his role as a member of the Latin Kings gang.

Prosecutors laid out in court some of the evidence they used to make their arrests - including a picture of Markel the day he had been shot twice in the head as well as taped phone calls between some of the key suspects. Their evidence also included a large chart showing the links between Markel, ex-wife Wendi Adelson, Magbanua and Garcia.

Magbanua at one time had a romantic relationship with Charles Adelson, the brother of Wendi Adelson and whose family runs a successful dental practice in Broward County. Wendi Adelson and Markel divorced in 2013, but before it was finalized, the two fought over Wendi Adelson's push to move her two small children from Tallahassee to South Florida to be closer to her family, court records show.

At the time of Markel's death, the two were battling over money. Markel also complained that his mother-in-law, Donna Adelson, was disparaging him and wanted the court to prohibit her from having unsupervised visits with his children, who were living with him.

In the months following Markel's death, Magbanua was paid more than $10,000 by the Adelson dental practice yet investigators said they could not find any proof that she did any actual work. They also said she purchased a used Lexus from the Adelson family at a discount and deposited thousands of dollars in cash in her bank account.

Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman said there is not enough evidence to charge any member of the Adelson family, although they would like Magbanua to cooperate with investigators. The Adelsons have previously denied any involvement in the crime.