Jury selection begins, and Florida Politics is on the scene
Florida Politics will be providing daily coverage of Katherine Magbanua’s retrial for the 2014 murder-for-hire of FSU law professor Dan Markel. The case has drawn international media attention to Florida’s capital city, and we’ll share with readers the top things to watch for and discuss as proceedings unfold. Our reporting will draw from many sources, including contributor Karen Cyphers of Sachs Media, who with attorney Jason Solomon advocate with the grassroots group, Justice for Dan, to draw attention to this case and provide analysis of relevance to Florida’s political, advocacy, and legal communities.
Day 1: What to watch for
1. First, where to watch:
Whether you’re just wading into the case and want to get caught up, or are already familiar but eager to hear fresh takes, here’s what we’d recommend diving into, beyond to the ongoing local coverage and trial livestreams by the Tallahassee Democrat, WCTV, and WTXL:
—Florida Politics: For a backstory on the case, here’s what we published just after Charlie Adelson’s arrest, detailing the main facts and personalities involved.
— Over My Dead Body: If you’re driving up to Tallahassee for Special Session and want that time to be well-spent, this hit podcast will introduce you to much of the case.
— Justice for Dan: The grassroots community seeking justice for Markel and his family, with regular commentary and public engagement through its Facebook page.
— Fanci Fiction: Just as the clever case insider-referenced name suggests, this channel is the ultimate parody site for all things Markel murder. But no joke, it cuts real and deep, too.
— Mentour Lawyer: Tallahassee lawyer James Waczewski’s channel has focused on the Markel murder for many years. A bit unconventional in delivery, but in for the long haul.
— Lawyer You Know: Produced by lawyer Peter Tragos, with videos that walk watchers through high-profile and interesting cases.
2. Jury selection
A heinous crime that involves many dozens of witnesses, years of media attention within a small community, and an expected two weeks of time in a courtroom — not the easiest conditions for seating a jury.
In this trial, Judge Robert Wheeler has set a day and a half for jury selection alone. He explained on Friday afternoon that the clerk will be calling three sets of 50 prospective jurors to appear beginning on Monday morning through Tuesday morning, with another set of 50 identified to be called if the first 150 aren’t sufficient. These pools will be narrowed down to about 60, at which point the process of voir dire begins. This is where attorneys representing the state and the defense will have a chance to question individuals about their backgrounds, prejudices, and ability to sustain the rigors of the trial experience.
Judge Wheeler shared that even if a person says they’ve heard about the Markel murder, they may still be eligible for jury service — if they seem earnest in expressing the ability to remain impartial and open-minded and promise to only consider the evidence presented before them during this trial when deliberating a verdict.
3. Evolving witness lists
Many months ago, Magbanua’s attorneys made news with the claim that one of the state’s key witnesses — Luis Rivera — had divulged to another inmate that his confession was inaccurate. This inmate? A multi-murderer, neo-Nazi named Walter Rayborn.
Rivera had cooperated with authorities in exchange for a reduced sentence and admitted that he had driven with Sigfredo Garcia to Tallahassee to kill Markel. He said they had done so to benefit Markel’s ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, saying, “the lady wanted her kids back.” Prior to the murder, Wendi Adelson had lost multiple custody battles, with courts ruling she could not relocate with Markel’s children to South Florida where she desired to live to be near her parents.
Rivera’s testimony also corroborated various other pieces of evidence, including dates of travel, routes, lodging, payment methods, and more. When the defense listed Rayborn as a witness, it was to discredit Rivera’s account of the murder. But that won’t happen. Rayborn’s prospects as a defense witness were already limited by several dings on his credibility, and as of last week, defense attorneys Tara Kawass and Christopher DeCoste reported he will no longer be appearing at trial.
But Garcia himself might be testifying.
After being convicted of Markel’s murder in 2019 and sentenced to life behind bars, it is unclear what Garcia — the father of Magbanua’s children — might be able to offer in her defense. If he intends to take the stand and claim he committed this crime by working with the Adelson family without Magbanua’s knowledge, one would have to question why he didn’t make this same confession through formal cooperation — a process that would arguably offer a much better outcome for all. If Garcia had legitimate information to exonerate Magbanua and was willing to do so, that’s not the type of thing that typically happens on the stand during a trial. There’s no evidence that Garcia had any type of direct contact with any member of the Adelson family. Nevertheless, his testimony could introduce chaos or confusion, which may well be an outcome that the defense team seeks.
Finally, other witness names have resurfaced in recent weeks. These include another former inmate who spent time with Garcia while incarcerated and whose account suggests Garcia had confided key details of the case that support the state’s theory; and at least two former (if not current) friends of Charlie Adelson, whose April 2022 arrest for his role in this murder made global headlines.