Markel Murder trial day 3: State's key witness takes the stand

By: Julie Montanaro | WCTV Eyewitness News
October 1, 2019

Luis Rivera is the state's key witness in the Dan Markel murder trial. Rivera agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors in 2016.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — After a hiatus while the state observed Rosh Hashana on Monday, the third day of the Dan Markel murder trial got underway at 9 a.m. Tuesday. WCTV has continued coverage of this trial, including recaps of each day in court.

Whenever the trial is in session, you can watch a livestream of it here on our website.

4:30 p.m. update

At this point, co-defendant Luis Rivera has been on the stand for two hours.

When prosecutors asked if Sigfredo Garcia hired him to do a murder, Rivera said he did. Rivera was then asked who hired Garcia.

"Wendi's family," Rivera said.

He then went on to say he never met the Adelson family.

During cross examination by Garcia's attorney, Rivera's history with the Latin Kings, a group he said he was born into, was brought up.

"Latin Kings is a family," Rivera said. "You take care of everybody. You take care of the neighborhood."

Rivera said despite his status as a leader in the Latin Kings, the group will try to kill him for testifying against Garcia. Rivera also said he's kept in protective custody in federal prison.

3:30 p.m. update

The state's key witness, co-defendant Luis Rivera, took the stand around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. His testimony is expected to last several hours.

Rivera agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors in October 2016. When asked about the deal he made with the state, Rivera said no one has told him what to say.

Rivera testified that he and Sigfredo Garcia were childhood friends. He said Garcia asked him to come "take a ride up to Tallahassee" for "a job." Rivera said on the stand Garcia told him his cut for the job would be $35,000.

Rivera said he thought the job would be a robbery, but on the way up to Tallahassee, Garcia told him it was to "kill a man for some kids." Rivera said Garcia had a piece of paper with Markel's picture and address on it.

"It was for a lady," Rivera testified. "A lady wanted her kids back."

Rivera testified that he and Garcia arrived to Tallahassee on June 4, 2014 around 5 to 6 a.m. A speeding ticket from Gainesville said it was received around 9 a.m.

Rivera said the purpose of this first trip was "to scope him out." When asked if he was supposed to murder Markel, Rivera said "We were supposed to, but couldn't find him."

An attorney asked Rivera who was supposed to be the shooter on the first trip.

"I was supposed to be the shooter," Rivera testified.

Rivera said he changed the plans because he would not shoot any kids. Markel was with his kids on June 4, according to Rivera.

On July 18, 2014, the day of the murder, Rivera said he saw Markel drop off his kids and saw Markel at the gym. Rivera admitted to following Markel in a Prius.

"We followed him all the way back to his house," he said.

Rivera said Garcia got out of the Prius and shot Markel twice in his garage.

"Did you actually see Mr. Garcia shoot Mr. Markel?" an attorney asked.

"Of course," Rivera replied.

Rivera said they threw the murder weapon "over a bridge" and into "a lake" as they headed back to Miami. Rivera said Katherine Magbanua paid them in cash the next day.

Rivera said he was paid $35,000, Garcia got $40,000 and Magbanua got $25,000. He said the money was given to them in a brown paper bag, all in $100 bills which were stapled together in $1,000 stacks.

10:45 a.m. update

Wendi Adelson’s ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey LaCasse, took the stand.

He testified that he and Adelson started dating in fall 2013, then became exclusive as boyfriend and girlfriend in spring 2014. He said they broke up in July 2014, just days before the murder.

He said Adelson was “quite bitter” about not being able to relocate to South Florida.

LaCasse said he met Wendi Adelson’s brother and mother on a trip to South Florida in March 2014. He says they met Charlie Adelson and Katherine Magbanua for dinner at a South Beach restaurant.

He said after dinner, they all went back to Charlie Adelson’s house and hung out in the hot tub and checked out his many cars including a Ferrari. He says Wendi Adelson had previously mentioned the Ferrari.

LaCasse said he recalled meeting Wendi Adelson at a midtown coffee shop in early June and she was “a nervous wreck.” He said she would not say why.

LaCasse says the two had an argument over fidelity and the future of their relationship in late June and their contact after that “was minimal.”

He testified that Wendi Adelson confided in him that in summer 2013, her brother had looked into hiring a hit man to kill Dan Markel for either $15,000 or $50,000.

“My stomach kind of flipped,” LaCasse said.

LaCasse testified that on the Monday before the murder, July 14, 2014, Wendi Adelson told him via email “I need a week to think, please don’t contact me.”

LaCasse testified he was out of town on business the day of the murder and later learned Wendi Adelson had mentioned him as a possible suspect to police.

On cross examination, LaCasse said police did ask him to turn over phone records, bank records and receipts to prove his whereabouts. He testified he did so and that police cleared him.

“Do you feel wronged by Wendi Adelson?” Defense attorney Saam Zangeneh asked.

“Do I feel wronged? Yes,” LaCasse said.

10 a.m. update

A Tallahassee Police Officer who responded to Dan Markel’s home the morning of the murder is on the stand now.

Officer Brannon says first responders were getting Markel out of the car and there was blood and shattered glass on the ground. He said he checked inside the home, but there were no signs of break in or struggle.

Brannon says he helped to put up crime scene tape and maintain a perimeter after that.

While there, Brannon noticed a red Odyssey van drive up to the crime scene tape and then do a three point turn and drive away “without hesitation.” He said there was a woman behind the wheel, but he could not identify the woman and was not able to get the tag number.

The officer made note of the van in his report because it matched the description of the vehicle driven by Markel’s ex-wife Wendi Adelson.

On cross examination, Brannon said he could not “say conclusively” whether Adelson was the woman driving. When asked why he didn’t radio an officer to stop the van, he said at that point there was no reason to conduct a traffic stop.

On cross examination, Brannon says the woman did not slow down, did not stop to ask what was going on and did not get out of the car screaming.

Brannon says he called another officer to let him know he’d seen the van.

9:45 a.m. update

The director of the Premiere Health and Fitness Center has been called back to the stand.

Dan Markel was killed shortly after leaving the gym on July 18, 2014. Surveillance cameras captured not only Markel coming and going from the gym, but also the suspects’ Prius tailing Markel’s car in and out of the parking lot.

Prosecutors played one more video clip on the big screen. The gym director testified on cross examination that there are 16 cameras, but says trees do block the view of portions of the parking lot.

He testified that he doesn’t recall ever seeing anyone get out of the Prius.

9:30 a.m. update

An investigator with the State Attorney's Office was on the stand testifying about a fingerprint analysis done on a pawn shop form with Sigfredo Garcia’s name on it.

Thomas Balboni says the form, dated October 2013 from a pawn shop in Miami, had Garcia’s thumbprint on it. Balboni says he took Garcia’s fingerprints and then compared the thumb prints on the two forms.

Balboni called it a match.

He also read aloud the phone number written on the pawn shop transaction form.

That form pre-dates Dan Markel’s murder by nine months. It’s not clear what item Garcia pawned.

8:30 a.m. update

Prosecutors say cooperating co-defendant Luis Rivera could testify “possibly this afternoon or tomorrow morning.”

Rivera’s testimony could be delayed by a dispute over whether his attorneys will be required to testify and answer questions about initial, unrecorded meetings with him.

Copyright 2019 WCTV. All rights reserved.


By: Julie Montanaro | WCTV Eyewitness News
September 30, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — Three days of jury selection and witness testimonies from the lead investigator and the victim's ex-wife were the week one highlights of the Dan Markel murder trial.

After a hiatus while Rosh Hashana was observed on Monday, court will resume at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday.

When the trial continues, co-defendant Luis Rivera is expected to testify against Sigfredo Garcia and Katherine Magbanua.

According to state prosecutors, Rivera confessed to the murder for hire plot and agreed to testify against Garcia and Magbanua, in exchange for a lighter sentence.

"I think it's a necessary step to move forward and getting the most justice we can out of this case," prosecutor Georgia Cappleman said when the plea was made in October 2016.

In their opening statements, the defense attorneys balked at the deal. They pointed out Rivera, who was already serving a 12-year federal prison sentence, would have to serve just seven more years for his role in the Markel murder.

"What did the prosecution get in return for the deal of the century?" Garcia's attorney, Saam Zangeneh, said in court Thursday.

Garcia's attorney disputed Rivera's claim, suggesting Rivera was the one who may have pulled the trigger, not his client.

Tara Kawass, Magbanua's attorney, said Rivera is not to be trusted and keeps changing his story.

"He has told so many different versions of what happened, that I don't know what he's going to tell you," she said.

Rivera's testimony comes right on the heels of the testimony of Markel's ex-wife, Wendi Adelson. In order to get her to testify, the state subpoenaed Adelson and gave her immunity.

According to WCTV legal analyst Joe Bodiford, Rivera's and Adelson's testimonies are critical to the state's case.

"I think the jury is going to be very interested in hearing from the person who was there when Dan Markel died," Bodiford said of Rivera's testimony. "I think that's going to be a very poignant moment."

There are dozens of witnesses yet to be called to the stand, including agents involved in an undercover operation in South Florida.

The judge has estimated this trial could last until October 18.

Whenever the trial is in session, you can watch a livestream of it here on our website.

WCTV has continued coverage of the trial, including recaps of each day in court.

Copyright 2019 WCTV. All rights reserved.