After Florida jurors heard testimony from murder defendant Charlie Adelson himself claiming that he was innocent of Florida State University law professor Dan Markel’s murder and was instead a victim himself of extortion, the jury on Monday decided that he was guilty on all charges in his former brother-in-law’s 2014 shooting death.
The defendant, a 47-year-old dentist was charged as the mastermind behind the murder-for-hire of Markel.
On Monday, the prosecution and defense went back and forth during closing arguments before the jury in trial Judge Stephen Everett’s courtroom. The prosecution reiterated its position that Charlie Adelson, a dentist by trade, had the money and the connections through his then-girlfriend Katherine Magbanua to solicit and carry out the murder of the father of his nephews and the ex-husband of his sister, Wendi Adelson, amid a child custody dispute that deeply upset the family matriarch, Donna Adelson.
FSU law professor Dan Markel, the defendant’s former brother-in-law (inset left), murder defendant Charlie Adelson (right) listens to closing arguments at trial on Nov. 6, 2023. (Law&Crime Network)
Chief Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman of the 2nd Judicial Circuit in Leon County said that Adelson’s testimony about being an extortion victim of Magbanua’s after the shooting — under the notion that Miami-based Latin Kings gang members Sigfredo Garcia, the father of Magbanua’s children, and gang leader Luis Rivera, would kill Charlie if he didn’t pay them a third of a million dollars within 48 hours — didn’t hold water because it was such an elaborate and complex story.
Garcia, Rivera, and Magbanua have each been convicted and sentenced to prison for the murder. Those cases established that Garcia and Rivera traveled from Miami to Tallahassee and tailed Dan Markel as their target dropped off his sons at preschool, went to the gym, and pulled into his garage on July 18, 2014. Markel was fatally shot in the forehead and cheek.
Prosecutors told jurors that Markel was “adamantly opposed” to his children being moved to Miami. Though his and Wendi’s divorce was finalized a year before the murder, “highly emotionally charged” litigation continued on in the courts.
“In looking at who might have a motive to kill Dan Markel, law enforcement learned that Markel was entangled in a very nasty divorce with his ex-wife, who is the defendant’s sister, and her name is Wendi Adelson,” prosecutor Sarah Dugan said during opening statements.
During closings, Georgia Cappleman time and again advanced the argument that Adelson’s testimony about being extorted almost immediately after the Markel murder was “really unreasonable.”
“These two dudes, with no connection at all to Dan Markel, and without two nickels to rub together, rented a car and paid for gas to come to Tallahassee and stay at a hotel — twice — in order to kill someone the defendant hated, to harm him [the defendant],” Cappleman said with clear contempt for the testimony.
Charlie Adelson (left), Dan Markel (right) (Law&Crime Network)
“And for what?” the prosecutor asked. “To maybe get money? Maybe he just turns them in for murder. Why not just kill and rob him if what you’re after is money and there’s no hired hit? Why not just kill and rob him if your motive is we hate him?”
This was a rephrasing of what Cappleman said during cross-examination last Friday.
“Doctor, have you ever heard of the saying that the simplest explanation is always the most likely?” Cappleman asked Charlie Adelson directly.
“I’ve heard that theory before,” he replied.
“Was your explanation to the jury over the last little over a day the simplest explanation?” the prosecutor asked again.
“It was the truth,” Adelson answered.
The prosecutor grilled Adelson about how it made any sense that he let Magbanua stay the night at his house after she had told him, in his words, “my friend killed Dan” and the friend “will kill you” too if you don’t pay hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I’m not extorting you, I’m trying to help you,” Magbanaua said, according to Adelson, though he testified he didn’t realize he was actually being extorted at the time; what he knows in 2023 and what he knew in 2014 were not the same. Magbanua said got caught in the middle of the plot just like he did and regretted running her mouth about a “million-dollar offer” Adelson’s parents were willing to make to Dan Markel to get him move from Tallahassee to Miami, so his two sons would be close in proximity to the Adelson family, including the boys’ mother Wendi, according the testimony.
“She kept saying this was all her fault and she didn’t know any of this was going to happen,” Adelson said of Magbanua’s statements after the shooting.
Charlie Adelson testified that he allowed Magbanua to stay the night despite all of what he’d been told because he was “in a state of shock’ and didn’t think his then-girlfriend was involved.
Before Magbanua left the next morning with $138,000 in stapled cash from Adelson’s safe, the defendant said, she begged him not to tell anyone.
“Can we just pretend like this never even happened?” Magbanua asked, according to Charlie Adelson.
Adelson said he thought about going to the police but never did, believing that doing so would be the quickest way to get himself or his immediate family members killed.
For her part, Magbanua, now 38, testified a week ago that she lied at her 2019 and 2022 trials when she said “I had nothing to do with” the murder-for-hire, a plot she testified was first floated by Charlie Adelson.
The inmate testified that she didn’t know Dan Markel but that the motivation behind her involvement in the murder was two-fold: financial and as a favor to Charlie Adelson, her former boyfriend whom she met in 2013.
Charlie Adelson came up with the idea to kill Dan Markel and first suggested moving forward with violence while the two were leaving a Halloween party in 2013, Magbanua testified.
“Do you know anybody that can harm someone?” Charlie Adelson asked, according to Magbanua.
Magbanua said she that she did and that the person she knew was Sigfredo Garcia.
Throughout his time on the stand, Adelson was questioned about why the hitmen had to kill Dan Markel if their goal was to extort the defendant.
“Why couldn’t they just come put a gun to your head and say give me all of the money in your safe?” asked Cappleman, before stating: “I still don’t get how killing Dan Markel advances the ball for them to extort money out of you, do you?”
“Yeah, I have a theory. They could extort me for life and I don’t think they knew how much money I had in the safe. She knew I had a lot of money in the safe, but this way I can get extorted for life and that’s what happened,” Adelson answered. “And I start paying $3,000 dollars a month,” referring to an extortion layaway plan.
Cappleman repeated that line of thought during closing arguments, as well, and she asserted that it made no sense that Adelson would have cleaned out his life savings on the word of a woman he has since said extorted him.
“They [the hitmen] didn’t threaten him. They did not beat him into submission. Instead, they sent his own girlfriend to extort him on their behalf. And without any actual contact from the bad guys, the defendant just opened up his safe and handed over his beloved money that he had saved his entire life since he was a child. He just handed it over,” Cappleman said, mocking the Adelson testimony as implausible.
The prosecutor also mocked Charlie Adelson’s testimony about a “supposed extortion layaway plan,” whereby the defendant would continue paying the extortionists $3,000 per month so the rest of the illicit demand would be satisfied.
Cappleman said it was strange that Adelson continued to send “kissy faces and love texts to Katherine Magbanua,” the “woman who got him into this mess.”
“And he says she didn’t suspect she was involved. What?” the prosecutor said with emphasis during closings.
Under previous questioning by his defense lawyer Daniel Rashbaum, Charlie Adelson acknowledged that he did discuss the “million-dollar offer” with Katherine Magbanua and that he had the “cash” to make it happen without getting a loan.
During the testimony, Rashbaum also asked his client about the “complete joke” he repeatedly told about buying a TV as a divorce present for Wendi Adelson because it was cheaper than getting his sister a hitman.
Prosecutors said that, based on everything they know now, it couldn’t have been a joke. It was no mere coincidence that Dan Markel went on to become the victim of a murder-for-hire plot.
Adelson testified that the joke was the “stupidest thing” he’s ever said in his life.
“When I gave her the TV set as a divorce present — stupidest thing I ever said in my life — and I said, ‘I was gonna get you a hitman, but the TV set was a lot cheaper so I went with the TV set instead.’ I said it as a complete joke and it was stupid but I do that a lot,” the defendant said, also saying that he told the joke to Magbanua and others, even people he hardly knew.
Bad optics aside, Adelson said, he “never” looked into hiring a hitman.
From the start of the trial, defense lawyer Rashbaum told jurors that Dan Markel’s murder was “despicable,” “inexplicable,” and “evil,” but that the totality of the evidence would show his client was not guilty of all charges.
“You will see that the state cannot come close to meeting its burden. Why? Because Charlie Adelson is innocent,” Rashbaum previewed, asserting that the killers the state was looking for are already behind bars.
During closings, Rashbaum again asserted that Adelson was a victim of extortion and wrongly accused by authorities based on assumptions and guesses as to his involvement. Investigators never really put the whole puzzle together, the lawyer said.
“Just one of those puzzle pieces is enough for reasonable doubt, but here we have a mountain of them,” Rashbaum told the jury.
“Ask yourselves: Does it make any sense for a guy about to do a hit — about to murder someone — to go around town and advertise it? It doesn’t fit,” the defense lawyer added. “Reasonable doubt.”
Adelson’s lawyer asked jurors to look past the “off-color” hitman jokes and other crass statements made by a man who likes to talk too much, even statements on surreptitiously recorded wires like “If they had any evidence, we would have already gone to the airport.”
DOLCE VITA RECORDING – Charlie: “If they had any evidence, we would have already gone to the airport.” This recording is considered the smoking gun against #CharlieAdelson. Adelson met Katherine Magbanua at the Dolce Vita restaurant. Agents were at a table nearby, recording.… pic.twitter.com/JOVoD1bTYk
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) October 26, 2023
“You don’t have to like Charlie Adelson. There are plenty of reasons not to like him. That doesn’t make him a murderer,” Rashbaum emphasized.
“Ask yourselves: Does it make more sense for Katherine Magbanua, a professional liar and con artist, to hear the joke, to hear the million-dollar offer and start to get ideas?” Rashbaum continued, asserting that “criminals do not advertise what they are about to do.”
Rashbaum asked the jury to end the “nightmare” and send Adelson home, saying: “He didn’t do it, he didn’t conspire to do it, he didn’t solicit.”
Instead, the jury sealed Charlie Adelson’s fate.
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