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Hiring a hitman: Inside one Florida man’s alleged plot to murder his sister’s ex, a prominent attorney

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Wendi Adelson took the stand in a Florida courtroom earlier this month to testify at one of the trials related to the 2014 murder of her ex-husband, law professor Dan Markel. 

“I don’t want to know what happened,” she told the defense. 

With her long, dirty blonde hair covering the collar of a black blazer she wore over a gray dress, her demeanor varied between the seemingly good-natured, “Who, me?”-type witness and the kind who at-times grew combative, irked at the questions being thrown her way.

Adelson, a lawyer herself, testified under oath just feet from the woman accused of acting as a go-between for the woman’s ex-boyfriend, Adelson’s brother, and the men who allegedly carried out the murder. That woman, Katherine Magbanau, was convicted late Friday of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and solicitation to commit murder.

Some have speculated as to Adelson’s true involvement in the case – how much she knew before, during or after her ex‘s murder about the circumstances surrounding his execution-style death.

Just weeks before her May 19 testimony in a Leon County courtroom, Adelson’s brother, Charlie, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and solicitation to commit first-degree murder for allegedly hiring two men to kill his sister, Wendi’s, ex-husband. 

 “There’s actually tension between you and this office, right?” asked Magbanau’s defense attorney, regarding the Leon County State’s Attorney’s office. 

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She admitted, when asked, that testifying was “very uncomfortable” in light of the recent events surrounding her brother. 

“Lots of media insinuates that I did something I didn’t do, too,” she responds. 

Regardless of whether she did or did not know of the alleged plans for Markel’s murder – and whether she likes it or not – Wendi Adelson remains at the heart of the case.

This photo provided by Broward County Sheriff’s Office shows Charles Adelson. Adelson, a Florida dentist has been arrested on charges that he hired hit men eight years ago to kill his sister’s ex-husband, a prominent law professor. Adelson is facing murder and other charges in the 2014 death of Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel. 
((Broward County Sheriff’s Office via AP))

“For anybody to suggest that she would put her sons through such pain and horrific agony is just absurd and mean-spirited. This tragedy has had a terrible effect on Wendy and her sons,” John Lauro, Wendi’s attorney, told Fox News Digital on Sunday.

He added: “[For] almost eight years now, the police have done an intensely thorough investigation of Wendi. They have found not a single email, text, recorded conversation, phone record – anything – that implicates Wendy at all. Zero … The bottom line is that if there was something that tied Wendi to this horrific crime – and there’s not – we would have seen it in real evidence.”

Daniel “Danny” Markel, a prominent Florida State University law professor, was on the heels of a contentious divorce with Wendi when he was gunned down in his car on July 18, 2014. The pair disagreed and sparred in court documents over certain issues, namely, Wendi’s relocation from Tallahassee to be closer to her family in south Florida.

Tallahassee Police Department investigators have said Markel dropped his children off at daycare around 8:50 a.m. roughly five miles from his home and then made his way to Premier Health and Fitness Center, where he arrived around 9:12 p.m., according to a probable cause affidavit shared online in 2016.

Daniel Markel
(Florida State University)

Police found that a Toyota Prius had followed Markel not only into the parking lot of the fitness facility, but was also “trailing Markel’s car” before and after his time in the gym.

 “Investigators believe the suspects in the Prius followed the victim throughout the morning and back to this residence, where the victim was shot in the head as he sat in his car,” the affidavit states. “Markel’s neighbor heard what he believed to be a gunshot and looked out the window, where he saw a small silver or light-colored vehicle, resembling a Prius, backing out of the victim’s driveway.”

Markel was rushed to a local hospital, but ultimately could not be saved. 

On the day of the murder, Wendi Adelson sat for an interview with police that lasted at least six hours and without an attorney, she has said. Lauro said she did so willingly.

“Immediately after the police went to her, Wendi sat for seven hours. Answered all the questions. Turned over her cell phone, her computer, her car, her home,” Lauro, her attorney, said. “When she was told that her ex-husband had been shot and was literally dying at a hospital, she went into a stream of consciousness thought-pattern … she literally tried every way to search her memory, her thought process to assist the police in coming up with any information that that might be helpful.”

Katherine Magbanua

Katherine Magbanua
(Broward County Sheriff’s Office)

Sigfredo Garcia, who had allegedly lived with Magbanau, and his alleged accomplice, Luis Rivera, were charged in June 2016. Magbanau was arrested months later in October 2016. Garcia was convicted in 2019 of first-degree murder, and has appealed his conviction. Rivera ultimately pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. 

Garcia’s attorney did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request seeking comment.

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The affidavit further describes a series of phone calls between Magbanau, the father of her children, Sigfredo Garcia, Charlie Adelson, and his father, Harvey Adelson.

Wendi Adelson’s parents, Harvey and Donna, and her brother lived in South Florida, where Harvey had founded a dental practice, where his son – and nearly everyone in the family – had worked at one time or another. 

Tallahassee Police Department Public information officer David Northway reveals an image of Sigfredo Garcia, 34, during a press conference in Tallahassee, Fla., Thursday, May 26, 2016. Garcia is wanted for the murder of Florida State University law professor Dan Markel. Markel was killed in his Tallahassee home in July 2014. (Joe Rondone/Tallahassee Democrat via AP)

Tallahassee Police Department Public information officer David Northway reveals an image of Sigfredo Garcia, 34, during a press conference in Tallahassee, Fla., Thursday, May 26, 2016. Garcia is wanted for the murder of Florida State University law professor Dan Markel. Markel was killed in his Tallahassee home in July 2014. (Joe Rondone/Tallahassee Democrat via AP)

During Wendi Adelson’s testimony earlier this month, Chief Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman reference an email exchange between Adelson and Donna Adelson in asking what her mother felt was “the most important part of your divorce.”

“That was relocation,” Adelson responds. 

She later says her proximity to her parents was not the sole reason why she wanted to move. She acknowledged that, “it was absolutely a reason.” 

“I wanted to create some stability for my kids and family, having family around, helps have a more stable environment,” she testified. 

But Markel was “adamantly opposed” to Adelson taking their children to south Florida, Cappleman contented, to which Adelson agreed. Adelson said her mother suggested changing the children’s religion – which was said to have been important to Markel – and even bribe him with up to a million dollars, “$330,000 each … my mom, my dad and Charlie.” 

In August 2016, attorneys for Wendi Adelson (pictured) and several family members said in a statement that speculation they had a role in Dan’s death is "categorically false."

In August 2016, attorneys for Wendi Adelson (pictured) and several family members said in a statement that speculation they had a role in Dan’s death is “categorically false.”
(YouTube/Democracy Lives in Miami )

After Markel’s death, Wendi Adelson stayed in Tallahassee “for a few days” before moving away from the area, telling the prosecutor she didn’t feel safe. She later went on to change her children’s last names from Markel to Adelson, and change one of their son’s middle names, despite its symbolism and significance to the Markel family. 

Prosecutors pressed her during her testimony about comments she allegedly made during her interview with police just hours after Markel’s death.

One of the things you said was that your family very much disliked him and that you thought it was possible that someone had done this on your behalf,” Cappleman contended to Adelson.

Adelson responded: I did say I thought someone might have done this o my behalf, yes.”

She also noted: I think I speculated about lots of things during the six hours I spent with law enforcement without an attorney present.”

“Did your brother ever mention hiring a hitman to kill your ex-husband?” Cappleman asked earlier in the examination.

Luis Rivera (left) and Sigfredo Garcia.

Luis Rivera (left) and Sigfredo Garcia.
(Federal Bureau of Prisons/Broward County Sheriff’s Office )

Adelson responded that he “never mentioned hiring a hitman.”

“He told one off-color joke where he said, he had bought me a TV when I got divorced and said it was a present and made a very bad joke, in bad taste, that it was cheaper than hiring a hitman,” Adelson said. 

Asked whether Charlie made the joke once or multiple times, Wendi Adelson said her brother “has a tendency to repeat himself, so everything he says he says multiple times.”

She said he had made the joke “definitely twice at least.” 

Wendi said she had only met Magbanau a handful of times. Magbanau had allegedly also worked for the Adelsons’ dental practice for a short time. 

Dan Markel (right) is the subject of a new Wondery podcast titled "Over My Dead Body."

Dan Markel (right) is the subject of a new Wondery podcast titled “Over My Dead Body.”
(Wondery)

Asked if she was “involved in the plot to kill your husband,” Adelson responded: “Absolutely not.”

“Did you have knowledge of the plot to kill your husband?”

“No,” she said. 

Speaking to Fox News Digital on Sunday, Lauro said “one of the first things” Wendi Adelson discussed during her interview with police was the joke her brother had made. He said that further shows that any argument that Wendi could have been “somehow part of a murder-for-hire plot is absolutely ludicrous.”

Charlie Adelson, age 45, was arrested in April 2022 after he was indicted by a grand jury. 

Leon County State Attorney Jack Campbell said in a statement at the time that investigators were able to improve the quality of a secretly recorded meeting between Charlie Adelson and Magbanau, who was arrested only months later. 

It was the first time Charlie could be heard discussing the alleged plot.

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His lawyers did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment.

Speaking to Fox News Digital about Markel, Cappleman said she was not aware of any evidence to indicate Markel was concerned about his safety prior to his death.

She said Markel’s family was “utterly tormented by the whole situation.”

Markel’s father did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request seeking an interview. 

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