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‘I’m telling the truth, man’: Luis Rivera testifies in Magbanua retrial

You can watch the state’s questioning and the defense’s cross-examination in the Facebook videos at the top of this story.
Following Thursday’s lunch break, Luis Rivera took the stand in Katherine Magbanua’s retrial for the murder of Dan Markel. (5/19/22)
Published: May. 19, 2022 at 9:54 AM EDT|Updated: May. 19, 2022 at 5:10 PM EDT
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STATE QUESTIONS RIVERA (begins around 13-minute mark)

CROSS-EXAMINATION (begins around 2-minute mark)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla (WCTV) - Luis Rivera testified for nearly three hours Thursday and will be back on the stand again Friday morning.

Rivera testified about the day Dan Markel was murdered.

Rivera said he and Garcia pulled into the driveway right behind Markel and pulled up within three feet of his bumper. Rivera said he was the driver. When Garcia got out, he walked to the driver’s side of Markel’s car and fired two shots without saying a word.

Rivera said Magbanua paid him and Garcia the next day, handing him a paper bag with stacks of one hundred dollar bills inside.

“I’ve never seen money stapled,” Rivera said.

Rivera said he got $37,000, Garcia got $40,000 and Magbanua got the rest.

“She’s guilty just like all three of us,” Rivera said on cross-examination. “I’m telling the truth man.”

Defense attorney Chris DeCoste trying to point out inconsistencies in Rivera’s story and contending phone location records contradict Rivera’s account of meeting to get the money.

“I ain’t going back and forth,” Rivera said during the cross-examination.

DeCoste hammered Rivera on the plea deal he accepted which reduced his murder charge from first degree to second, and did away with conspiracy, solicitation and firearm charges.

The defense did not finish its cross-examination of Rivera and that will resume in the morning.

See more of the previous details from Thursday’s court proceedings below.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Luis Rivera, one of two men convicted of traveling to Tallahassee to kill FSU professor Dan Markel, was back on the stand Thursday testifying against Katherine Magbanua.

Rivera was led into the courtroom just after 2:15 p.m. wearing a blue jail jumpsuit and handcuffs.

Rivera is a key witness for the state. He agreed to a plea deal back in 2016, just months after his arrest. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison in exchange for his testimony against Katherine Magbanua and accused triggerman Sigfredo Garcia.

Garcia was convicted at trial in 2019 after Rivera testified the two killed Dan Markel on July 18, 2014. Garcia and Magbanua were tried together in 2019. The jury could not reach a unanimous verdict for Katherine Magbanua, and the judge declared a mistrial.

Rivera is now testifying against Magbanua for a second time. He said the deal he made requires him to “snitch.”

Rivera testified he was hired and paid to participate in the murder of Dan Markel.

He said he was hired by his best friend Sigfredo Garcia and they were both paid by Katherine Magbanua, who he described as Garcia’s wife.

Rivera said all three of them were paid for the murder. He testified his share of the money was $37,000.

“Who came to bring you the money?” prosecutor Georgia Cappleman asked.

“Katie,” Rivera said and then pointed to her in the courtroom.

Rivera said that to his knowledge, Sigfredo Garcia had no direct contact with Charlie Adelson or the Adelson family and communicated through Magbanua.

Rivera testified that he originally thought he and Garcia were coming to Tallahassee to do a robbery, but found out halfway here that they were going to kill someone.

Rivera said Garcia had a piece of paper with Markel’s picture on it and an address on it. He said he was willing to kill Markel, but Garcia ended up doing it.

Find previous updates from the courtroom below, including a fiery cross-examination of Markel’s ex-wife, Wendi Adelson. Adelson’s ex-boyfriend also took the stand earlier Thursday.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Wendi Adelson’s ex-boyfriend described her behavior in the days leading up to Dan Markel’s murder as “weird” and described a conversation just days earlier as “chilling.”

Jeffrey Lacasse said the couple’s relationship was strained in the weeks before Markel’s murder and he felt he was “being strung along.”

Lacasse testified that after going to dinner and a movie on July 13, 2014, just five days before Markel’s murder, Wendi confided in him that the previous summer, her brother had looked into hiring a hitman.

Lacasse said he had repeatedly heard Wendi joke about TVs being cheaper than hitmen, but this conversation was different.

Jeffrey Lacasse said the couple’s relationship was strained in the weeks before Markel’s murder...
Jeffrey Lacasse said the couple’s relationship was strained in the weeks before Markel’s murder and he felt he was “being strung along.”(WCTV)

“This was chilling. It wasn’t funny. It made my stomach flip,” he said.

Lacasse described Wendi as “superficially charming” and a “deeply deceitful person.”

Lacasse testified that Wendi had previously canceled a trip to visit his parents that was scheduled for the week of July 11 through July 18, 2014. He also found it “weird” in retrospect that she was asking questions about his business trip on July 18 when they hadn’t been talking regularly for weeks.

Lacasse testified he later discovered that Wendi had mentioned his name as a possible suspect in her police interview after the murder.

He testified she didn’t realize he wound up leaving for the trip a day early. He testified he had to show phone records, credit card records and more to police to prove he had an alibi at the time of the murder.

Lacasse also described traveling to Miami with Wendi Adelson and meeting Katherine Magbanua and Charlie Adelson for dinner in March 2014. He said he doesn’t recall a lot about the conversation, but he says there was some talk about Magbanua’s boyfriend fighting and having a criminal record.

Find previous updates from the courtroom below.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla (WCTV) - Wendi Adelson was questioned by the state for nearly two hours Thursday in the retrial of Katherine Magbanua and defense attorneys are now cross-examining her.

Adelson’s testimony is lasting much longer in this trial than in Magbanua’s first trial, and prosecutors asked more questions about her brother, Charlie Adelson, who was arrested just last month in the same murder-for-hire plot.

“I think he lived a bachelor lifestyle,” Adelson said of her brother Charlie, driving fancy cars and dating many women.

Wendi Adelson, Dan Markel's ex-wife, takes the stand on May 19, 2022, in the second day of...
Wendi Adelson, Dan Markel's ex-wife, takes the stand on May 19, 2022, in the second day of witness testimony in Katherine Magbanua's retrial.(WCTV)

Adelson said she met Magbanua twice, once at dinner and once at the beach, but said their relationship “didn’t seem serious.”

She said Charlie Adelson was dating Magbanua at the time of Markel’s murder.

Adelson says Charlie Adelson was aware of Magbanua’s ex-boyfriend, Sigfredo Garcia, and seemed “a little scared of him.”

Wendi Adelson confirmed on cross-examination that her brother made a joke about looking into hiring a hitman as a divorce present.

“The joke was made many times,” Adelson said, including right before Markel was murdered.

“This is all about you,” defense attorney Chris DeCoste said. “It’s all because of your failed marriage.”

DeCoste claimed Adelson “dropped a bomb” on Markel when she called him at an out-of-town conference and told him she was leaving and filing for divorce.

DeCoste pressed her on why she hasn’t helped to find out who killed Markel and why she hasn’t pressed her brother Charlie for answers.

“I have been nothing but helpful,” Wendi Adelson said. “I have done nothing wrong. I am not guilty.”

Find previous updates from the courtroom below.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla (WCTV) - Wendi Adelson is now testifying in the retrial of Katherine Magbanua, who is accused of killing Adelson’s ex-husband.

Magbanua is one of four people accused in the 2014 murder-for-hire plot of FSU professor Dan Markel. Wendi’s brother, Charlie Adelson, is also one of them.

Wendi Adelson described her marriage, separation and divorce from Dan Markel. She testified that the two separated in 2012 after six years of marriage and she asked the court for permission to relocate her children to Miami.

“I wanted to create some stability for my kids,” Adelson said.

She testified that her parents and brother lived nearby and could offer some support.

Prosecutors asked her about a series of emails from her mother, Donna Adelson.

Adelson confirmed that her mother called Markel a bully, a religious extremist and several expletives.

“She was very, very disappointed with the way he treated me,” Adelson said.

She testified that her mother suggested bribing Markel and paying him up to $1 million to allow the children to relocate to South Florida.

A judge ultimately denied Wendi Adelson’s request to move the children to South Florida.

Adelson says her mother was “very upset” by that decision.

See previous updates from the courtroom below.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Two key witnesses are expected to take the stand Thursday in the re-trial of Katherine Magbanua.

Magbanua is accused in the 2014 murder-for-hire plot of FSU professor Dan Markel. Her first trial in 2019 ended with a hung jury and mistrial.

Luis Rivera — who made a plea deal with the state in exchange for his testimony — is expected to testify Thursday afternoon.

Wendi Adelson was the second witness to take the stand Thursday morning.

The judge quashed a defense subpoena for Wendi Adelson Thursday morning before the jury arrived in the courtroom.

Her attorney says Adelson will comply with the state subpoena but would plead the fifth if called by the defense because that subpoena does not carry the same immunity conferred by a state subpoena.

Prosecutor Georgia Cappleman went over the immunity agreement with Adelson on the stand so the jury could understand. The immunity conferred via the subpoena means what Adelson says on the stand during her testimony cannot be used against her should she one day be prosecuted.

Cappleman pointed out that means Adelson can still be prosecuted down the line.

The judge quashed the defense subpoena over the defense team’s objections.

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