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More than five years after Florida State University law professor Dan Markel was fatally shot, the woman accused of acting as a go-between in his murder denied any involvement in the plot during the final day of testimony last week.
Katherine Magbanua, who had personal connections to both Markel's former brother-in-law and alleged trigger-man Sigfredo Garcia, said she had no personal knowledge of a murder-for-hire plot. However, prosecutors pointed to her relationship with Garcia and dubious sources of income to argue otherwise. A jury convicted Garcia on October 15, but they were unable to reach a verdict on the charges against Magbanua.
A well-known scholar and legal blogger, Markel was killed outside his Tallahassee, Florida home in July 2014. Investigators accused Garcia of killing Markel as part of a plot instigated and paid for by the family of Markel's ex-wife, Wendi Adelson. Markel and Adelson had divorced the previous year and were in dispute over custody of their children.
The prosecution painted a picture of a family turning on one of their own - when a custody order prevented Wendi from relocating to South Florida, they argued, she and her brother enlisted Magbanua, Garcia, and Garcia's friend Luis Rivera to murder Markel in exchange for $100,000.
At the time of Markel's murder, Magbanua was dating Wendi Adelson's brother, Charlie, but had also been in a long-term relationship with Garcia.
Adelson's family continues to deny any involvement.
At trial, prosecutors pointed to more than $41,000 in cash deposits made to Magbanua's bank account in the year following Markel's murder as evidence of her involvement. Magbanua testified that many of those cash deposits were tips she earned working as a bottle girl in high-end nightclubs in Miami. She says she had nothing to do with the murder, and that she had no personal knowledge of Charlie Adelson's involvement, either.
However, Garcia's attorney, Saam Zangeneh, says part of the reason Garcia declined to take the stand was because he was protecting Magbanua. Investigators say it was Magbanua who enlisted Garcia to pull the trigger. Phone records indicate that Garcia and Magbanua exchanged 12 phone calls while Garcia and Rivera were on their way to Markel's home.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, the Leon County jury deliberated for 11 hours before convicting Garcia. Although Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman argued for the death penalty, the jury recommended life in prison without parole. Cappleman told reporters the state will move forward in retrying Magbanua for conspiracy.