Closing arguments set for Monday in trial of man accused in murder of former FSU professor

The fate of a Fort Lauderdale dentist charged with the 2014 murder of a renowned Florida State University Law School professor will soon be in the hands of a jury.

Charles Adelson is charged with first-degree murder for allegedly killing Daniel Markel, his former brother-in-law, in July 2014. He has pleaded not guilty.

At the time of his murder, Markel was amid a bitter divorce and custody battle with Adelson’s sister Wendi, also a law professor at Florida State University.

Prosecutors allege a sprawling murder-for-hire plot hatched by Adelson, orchestrated by Katherine Magbanua – at the time Adelson’s girlfriend – and carried out by two other individuals, Luis Rivera and Sigfredo Garcia. Garcia is the father of Magbanua’s children.

Rivera, a reputed Latin King gang member, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder as part of a plea deal and was sentenced to 19 years in 2016 in exchange for his cooperation in the prosecution’s case against Markel. Garcia was sentenced to life in prison in 2019 for Markel’s murder, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

At her July trial, Magbanua was found guilty for her role in the plot. She was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In Adelson’s trial, Magbanua was called as a witness by the prosecution and has since admitted she lied about her innocence in her own trial and went on to offer testimony that implicated Adelson.

“I believe that the truth needed to come out now so that the family can get some type of closure,” she said on the stand.

Magbanua testified that Adelson came up with the idea to kill Markel and first broached the subject at a Halloween party in 2013. “Do you know anybody that can harm someone?” Magbanua testified Adelson asked her.

Magbanua testified she told him she did in fact know someone and that she understood the person Adelson wanted to harm to be his sister’s husband.

“(Adelson) was planting this seed in my head that this needed to get done,” she testified. “I guess towards probably around June or July is when he was a little bit more adamant about this job getting done.”

Rivera testified last week that he was hired along with Garcia by Magbanua for $100,000 to murder Markel. Rivera testified that the money came from Adelson, whom he referred to as “The Dentist,” and it was split three ways between himself, Garcia and Magbanua.

Adelson denied having any involvement in the plot and instead testified that the murder was carried out to extort vast sums of money from his family.

Testifying in his own defense, Adelson said his sister’s divorce and the stress it was causing his family was a frequent topic of discussion between him and Magbanua. Adelson testified that at one point, the family was prepared to offer Markel $1 million to walk away from the custody dispute and allow his sister Wendi to relocate with the couple’s children to South Florida and he shared this with Magbanua.

According to his testimony, on the night of the murder, Magbanua told Adelson she had previously discussed this “million-dollar offer” with a friend of hers who then acted on his own to kill Markel. Adelson claimed Magbanua told him that it “was all (her) fault.” He testified that Magbanua told him the friend was now demanding more than $300,000 and if he didn’t pay within 48 hours, this friend would kill Adelson and his family.

The dentist told the jury he didn’t have the full amount, so he approached his family to help because he feared he would continue to be extorted or be killed. He said he did not think Magbanua was in on the plot, so he paid in order to protect them both.

Adelson spent more than seven hours across two days on the witness stand before both sides rested their cases late Friday morning.

Closing arguments are expected to begin on Monday.

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