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‘Life sentence’: Mother of Florida lawyer killed in murder-for-hire plot details family’s fight for justice

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The mother of a prominent Florida attorney who was gunned down in an alleged murder-for-hire plot described the moments she learned of her son’s violent death – and her continuing quest for justice years later.

“The truth of my life is defined by my son’s murder,” Ruth Markel wrote in “The Unveiling: A Mother’s Reflection on Murder, Grief and Trial Life.” “I am seventy-seven years old and will likely die before reaching the small satisfaction of any kind of meaningful justice.”

Ruth Markel lost her only son, Dan, on the morning of July 18, 2014 – just minutes after she had spoken with him over the phone. In “The Unveiling,” one of her many books, she described not only how her family has chosen to remember “Danny,” but also the “life sentence” she herself is serving as she and her family await answers as to who hired hitmen to ambush and execute him. 

“Ma, I have to take this call,” and, “talk to you later,” were the last words she heard from him, she wrote.

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Dan Markel, 41, was a divorced father of two and a respected Florida State University law professor when he was gunned down while pulling into the garage of his Tallahassee, Florida, home. 

“Life’s progression comes to a stop when you lose a child. It feels like nothing is happening as it should, and everything is flipped upside down,” Markel wrote. “I often think that I have been sentenced for life. That Dan’s murder is also my life sentence: a void-like landscape of traumatic flashbacks, anguish, and prolonged anxiety.”

Markel added: “My hope is that things will get better when justice prevails. In the case of Dan, this has not happened yet.”

Dan was on the phone at the time with a teacher from a charter school that his children were potentially going to be attending, Ruth explained in her book. “There’s someone next to me,” were his final words before the shooter began firing off rounds.

Over eight years later, four people have been arrested – including Markel’s former brother-in-law, Charlie Adelson. 

Katherine Magbanua, Charlie’s ex-girlfriend, was sentenced to life in prison for Markel’s murder, and is reportedly scheduled to meet with prosecutors for questioning later this month.

Sigfredo Garcia, the father of Magbanua’s children, was convicted in 2019 of first-degree murder, and has appealed his conviction. His accomplice, Luis Rivera ultimately pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and testified in Magbanua’s May 2022 trial. He described how Magbanua acted as a go-between for Charlie Adelson and the alleged hitmen.

Meanwhile, Charlie Adelson, a 45-year-old former dentist, is scheduled to head to trial next year on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and solicitation to commit first-degree murder for allegedly hiring Garcia and Rivera to carry out the hit. 

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For over an hour, Markel described to Fox News Digital her love and adoration for Dan’s children; her appreciation of the support and the attention toward the case; and her unrelenting effort – while difficult – to find answers to questions she never imagined she’d have to ask. 

Ruth Markel described in “The Unveiling” her family’s suspicions immediately following the news of her son’s death. Ruth was in Montreal visiting family when she first learned what had happened. 

She immediately broke the news to her loved ones, with one uncle responding in Yiddish, “Machatunim … Machatunim”

“The in-laws. The in-laws,” Markel wrote in the book. “He was talking about the Adelsons, Wendi’s family.”

Attorneys for Charlie, Donna and Harvey Adelson declined to comment when contacted by Fox News Digital with specific excerpts from the book. Wendi’s attorney, John Lauro, also declined to make a public comment. 

An August 2016 statement signed by several attorneys representing the Adelson family called “unsupported speculation” of the Adelsons’ involvement in Markel’s murder “categorically false,” according to multiple reports.

“To be clear, none of the Adelsons – Wendi, her brother Charlie, or their parents Donna and Harvey – had anything to do with Dan’s murder,” the statement continued. 

It later described how police and investigators had “spent the past two years reviewing every shred of evidence out there – every phone record, financial record, text message, email, internet search, everything.”

The statement went on: “We understand why the government has put the Adelson family through this type of severe scrutiny. But nothing has turned up that supports this fanciful fiction that the Adelsons were involved … There is a reason that the police have not arrested any of the Adelsons – they weren’t involved in Dan’s death.”

Charlie Adelson, Wendi’s brother, was arrested in April 2022.

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Markel’s ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, and her parents, Donna and Harvey Adelson, have not been charged in connection with his death. 

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 a.m., according to a probable cause affidavit shared online in 2016.

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.”

The neighbor, identified in “The Unveiling” as a man named James Geiger, rushed to the Markel’s garage to find him “in a pool of blood,” Ruth Markel wrote. 

“You need to send an ambulance in a hurry,” Geiger could be heard in 911 call audio. “He is still alive. He is moving.”

Emergency responders arrived 19 minutes later. Markel was rushed to a local hospital, but ultimately could not be saved. 

While married, Dan and Wendi faced several issues that not only created tension between the couple, but between Dan’s and Wendi’s families the book states. 

One of those topics, Markel wrote, was Dan’s wish that their two sons be raised in a conservative, kosher Jewish household.

A second “big issue,” Ruth wrote, was where the couple chose to live. 

“Wendi disliked Tallahassee,” Markel wrote. “Wendi would only move to warm states as well as Washington, D.C. In reality, because she had young children, the only place she really wanted to live was in Miami, where her family was.”

Meanwhile, Dan had religious and community roots in Tallahassee, and a job that had “taken off,” she wrote. 

After the couple had split, Adelson’s efforts to move the children out of Tallahassee and closer to her family were shot down, at which point the “situation intensified,” Markel wrote. 

“Donna felt caged in and continued sending Wendi strong emails. Donna would try anything to gain control over the children and get them away from Dan,” Markel wrote. “Donna became obsessed with her hatred of Dan and kept on coming up with new plots for Wendi to move to the Miami area.”

In emails from the year before Dan’s death, Donna allegedly used derogatory terms related to Judaism and wrote: “Tell Dan that the children will be baptized in the Catholic church as long as he wants you to remain in Tallahassee.”

According to Markel, “Donna even documented to Wendi how the family was prepared to offer Dan $1 million to allow Wendi to move to South Florida, using a split of funds between Wendi herself, her parents, and her brother Charlie.”

After Dan’s death, Wendi Adelson testified at the trial for Magbanua in May 2022. Chief Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman referenced 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 responded. 

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

FLORIDA DENTIST BUSTED 8 YEARS AFTER ALLEGEDLY HIRING HITMEN TO KILL SISTER’S LAW PROFESSOR EX-HUSBAND

After Markel’s death, Wendi Adelson stayed in Tallahassee “for a few days” before moving away from the area, she testified. She told 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 alleged symbolism and significance to the Markel family. 

But questions surrounding who was involved in the hit remain, even as time passes. 

Though police have not charged Wendi’s parents in connection with the crime, they have pointed to evidence of the couple’s involvement, and have named them “unindicted co-conspirators.”

Questions surrounding who was involved in the hit remain, even as time passes. 

Though police have not charged Wendi’s parents in connection with the crime, they have pointed to evidence of her mother’s involvement, and named Donna an “unindicted co-conspirator,” Markel wrote. 

Markel cited certain details that arose during or around the trial that alluded to the family’s alleged involvement. 

Investigators, she wrote, found that Donna Adelson had written checks to Magbanua from the family’s dentistry business’ account. During trial, Rivera testified under oath that Donna’s “paychecks to Magbanua began immediately following Dan’s murder in even increments written on sequential checks.”

But investigators had “found no specific evidence that Magbanua was doing any official work for the family’s business or for Charlie himself, despite receiving regular paychecks, which contributed toward the total amount Rivera admitted the three were paid for the murder,” she added. 

And Rivera told investigators, and the court, that he was paid with cash that had been “stapled.” One of Charlie Adelson’s previous girlfriend testified that Charlie “stapled his cash,” Markel wrote. 

Meanwhile, prosecutors pressed Wendi during her May testimony about comments she allegedly made during her interview with police 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, who did not agree that she had made that specific statement. 

Charlie Adelson also allegedly made jokes more than once about hiring a hitman. Wendi testified at Magbanua’s trial that her brother had once told an “off-color joke.”

“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.” 

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

Rivera, who pleaded guilty and agreed to testify at Magbanua’s trial, told investigators the reason for the hit was because “the lady wants her kids back.” 

Wendi Adelson’s attorney, John Lauro, declined Wednesday to provide comment regarding the case. In May, he told Fox News Digital the tragedy “has had a terrible effect on Wendi and her sons.”

“For anybody to suggest that she would put her sons through such pain and horrific agony is just absurd and mean-spirited,” Lauro said in May. 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 Wendi 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.”

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