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Connecting the dots: How a 6-year-old FBI recording unlocked the Markel murder case

 Adelson mugshot
Broward County Sheriff's Office
Adelson mugshot

A major development in the long-running investigation into the 2014 murder of a prominent Florida State University law professor is being credited to an eight-year-old FBI tape.

Charlie Adelson, the brother of Markel's ex-wife Wendi Adelson, is the first member of the Adelson family to be arrested and charged in connection to Markel's murder.

The family, specifically Charlie and his mother Donna, have been implicated several times in what prosecutors have described as a murder-for-hire plot amid a bitter divorce and custody battle. Yet only now, eight years after Markel was found shot to death in his car in the driveway of his Betton Hills home, have prosecutors been able to charge a member of the family with a crime.

The recording featured prominently in a request for a continuance in the retrial of Katherine Magbanua, Charlie Adelson’s former girlfriend who is accused of acting as the go-between for the Adelson’s, and her former partner and convicted shooter, Sigfredo Garcia. Magbanua and Garcia were tried together in 2019, and while Garcia was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, the jury couldn’t reach a decision on Magbanua. Her new trial is set to begin next month.

The video, which was recorded by an undercover FBI agent, showed a meeting between Charlie Adelson and Magbanua at a restaurant called Dolce Vida in 2016. Georgia Cappleman, a prosecutor with the state attorney’s office, says the enhancement clarifies what was said that day in the Miami Beach restaurant. “The new evidence in the case is not really new evidence, its old evidence, but a new clarification which was done by a new audio expert. The enhancement was able to allow us for the first time to hear many statements that are uttered in that restaurant conversation by Charlie Adelson for the first time,” she told reporters during a recent press conference.

The video shows Adelson and Magbanua discussing a potential blackmail situation for more than 40 minutes. The FBI had attempted to ensnare Donna Adelson, the family matriarch, and the family was suspicious. The tape was recorded by undercover FBI agents. During the meeting, Charlie Adelson tells Magbanua that his mother Donna hasn’t told his father anything yet. It’s unclear what he is referring to.

“My mom knows my dad is gonna flip out when he finds out, but my mom hasn’t told my dad anything,” Charlie Adelson says to Magbanua during their conversation.

Now, he is being charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and solicitation of murder. Markel was shot and killed in his car in the driveway of his Tallahassee Betton Hills home. Prosecutors say the killing was done amid a bitter custody dispute between Markel and his ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, who hails from South Florida.

During that 2019 trial, Wendi Adelson testified about her brother. In one line of questioning, Cappleman asked Wendi whether Charlie ever joked about hiring a hitman, “buying you a TV as a divorce present would be cheaper?”

Adelson acknowledged that he did. “He did make that joke. He tended to repeat himself and sometimes he would make jokes that weren’t very funny about all kinds of things.”

The next day of the trial, Jeffrey Lacasse, who briefly dated Wendi, testified that she confided to him that Charlie had explored hiring someone to kill Markel.

“On July 13, 2014, Wendi and I were speaking and she asked me if she could share something with me confidentially,” Lacasse testified. “I told her sure. She said that Charlie had explored all options to take care of the problem and that he had looked into having Professor Markel killed. It would cost about $15,000.”

Before his murder, Wendi Adelson wanted to return to South Florida where her family was located, while Markel wanted the children and Wendi to remain in Tallahassee where they both worked at FSU at the time.

The FSU professor's death has sparked several documentaries, crime series, and at least one podcast. It also promoted Florida lawmakers to make changes to laws governing grandparent rights. Markel’s parents have not seen their two grandchildren since shortly after he was killed.

In Florida, grandparents don’t have very many. However, a years-long effort to allow grandparents visitation in certain instances was approved this year by the Florida legislature.

“The bill will create a point of access to courts for grandparents in cases where their child was killed, and courts have ruled against the surviving parent in a wrongful death claim. However, this bill remains protective of the rights of Florida parents without changing the many factors courts consider in determining visitation,” said House bill sponsor, Rep. Jackie Toledo.

The bill is unofficially known as the Markel Act. For WFSU News, I’m Brett Rutherford.

Copyright 2022 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Brett Rutherford