Dan Markel trial: Katherine Magbanua gets life + 60 years; Charlie Adelson trial early 2023; Tara Kawass opens up

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“13 years ago today, Dan Markel became a dad,” read an early morning Facebook post by Justice for Dan, marking the birthday of Markel’s oldest son. But today brought more than a coming-of-age celebration for the son and family of the slain FSU law professor.

Today, two conspirators in Markel’s murder appeared in front of Judge Robert Wheeler: Katherine Magbanua, for sentencing in her first-degree murder conviction, and Charlie Adelson, for a case management hearing. He has been charged with the same.

The hearings were somber, and short.

Outside of the courtroom, case-watchers waited in the dark, hoping to hear news of Magbanua’s cooperation — which, if she had done so, could have expedited arrests of other named co-conspirators in the case, such as Wendi Adelson, Markel’s ex-wife, and her mother Donna Adelson, or could have generated more evidence against Charlie Adelson, who has been arrested already.

But cooperation — if it happened — was in no way apparent.

“Magbanua was sentenced to the maximum allowed under law — life with no possibility of parole, followed by two consecutive 30 year sentences for conspiracy and solicitation,” shared Karen Cyphers with Justice for Dan, who was present for the hearing.

Magbanua’s lawyer, Tara Kawass, had asked for these two sentences to run concurrently — but Wheeler rejected this symbolic effort.

For the Markel family, today is one more brick in the long road toward justice.

Dan’s sister Shelly Markel read a victim impact statement over Zoom, sharing the pain and grief her family has endured since 2014. Her words were poignant and biting — a big sister who had once guided her little brother through life’s early milestones, before the two became close confidants, sharing things large and small. A brilliant mind, gone, and a loving brother, son, and father, forever ripped from those who loved him and needed him.

Shelly spoke of recognizing Dan’s mischievousness and confidence in her own son’s eyes and smile and agonized over whether Dan’s two children would ever come to know what traits they share with their father.

Even Kawass, who spoke on behalf Magbanua, underscored these sentiments. Kawass expressed Magbanua’s sympathy for the Markel family’s loss and shared her client’s sadness for the alienation the Markels have endured, being separated from his two sons. Wendi cut ties immediately after members of the Adelson family were publicly implicated in his killing, and only began reestablishing contact after the ‘Markel Act’ was passed by the Florida Legislature in 2022.

“My life as a grandmother was yanked away from me,” Ruth Markel wrote in her victim impact statement. “Other lives were destroyed as well. Benjamin and Lincoln have forever been deprived of a relationship with their father, and will grow up and go through life without a father.”

Benjamin’s milestone bar mitzvah came and went in May with no members of their father’s family present in person or via livestream — that invitation was revoked after Charlie’s arrest, despite other guests still welcome to celebrate. All the while, the boys’ other grandmother, Donna, was present in the synagogue: the same grandmother who had accused Dan of being a “religious zealot” for his commitment to Jewish tradition; who had suggested that Wendi threaten to convert the boys to Catholicism if Dan didn’t let them move to Miami; and who had floated the idea of dressing the boys in Hitler Youth costumes to make a bigger statement.

While Dan’s boys were not in the courtroom, their presence, and their tragedy, was surely felt by all. After Wheeler read Magbanua’s sentence, Kawass asked the court to appoint a public defender to handle any possible appeals, and Magbanua was escorted back to jail.

Charlie’s case management hearing followed. In this, his lawyer Daniel Rashbaum repeated to the court his client’s request for an Arthur Hearing — an attempt to secure bail and pretrial release for his client. Wheeler said that the hearing will be scheduled within 30 to 60 days, anticipated to take half of a day. But if Magbanua was repeatedly denied bail, including by Wheeler, it’s most likely Charlie will be denied, too.

One of Rashbaum’s main arguments for bail is that Charlie never fled after being named as a suspect in this case. However, Charlie was captured on multiple wiretapped recordings talking about doing so.

“If they had any evidence, we would have already gone to the airport,” he had said to Magbanua in 2016, the day after the FBI bump in which Donna was approached by an undercover agent disguised as a blackmailer. Charlie had gone so far as to look into charter plane arrangements, too. Ultimately, the decision lies with Wheeler.

Charlie’s next case management hearing will be set for November or December, and a trial could happen as soon as January 2023. Cappleman requested Adelson’s trial be scheduled for a full three weeks.

Following the hearings, Kawass stood for an hour with media, talking about the case and what’s to come. She said that while Magbanua will have a public defender for any possible appeals, she and her co-counsel Christopher DeCoste remain by her side.

Kawass suggested reporters look into a small piece of evidence tucked into the testimony of Shoddrick Nobles, a man who met Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera and sold them drugs on their trips to Tallahassee. During one trip, the hitmen had car trouble, and Nobles attested that the duo considered calling a woman who lived in Tallahassee for help.

“It couldn’t have been Katie,” Kawass said. “She was in Miami.”

Kawass emphasized her desire for Garcia to cooperate, in order to bring the other parties to justice. Kawass is confident that Garcia could do so, and expressed that if Magbanua were to finally confess her role and provide additional information, she would support that decision fully.

But if and until then, a new wait begins.

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