Convicted trigger man gets life sentence in Dan Markel murder

After just 35 minutes of deliberation, the jury has decided to give Sigfredo Garcia life in...
After just 35 minutes of deliberation, the jury has decided to give Sigfredo Garcia life in prison without parole for his conviction in the 2014 murder of FSU law professor Dan Markel.(WCTV)
Published: Oct. 14, 2019 at 10:54 AM EDT
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By: Julie Montanaro | WCTV Eyewitness News

October 15, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla (WCTV) – The suspected trigger man in the murder of FSU law professor Dan Markel was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday, after jurors rejected the state’s call for the death penalty.

Sigfredo Garcia was sentenced to life behind bars for first degree murder and an additional 30 years for conspiracy.

The jury recommended life after just 35 minutes of deliberation.

“Have you ever seen a jury come back this quickly in a death penalty case?

"No. No," defense attorney Saam Zangeneh said.

"When you have that knock at the door and you have that long period of silence where everyone was waiting, was he prepared to hear either answer?”

"He's probably still numb from the verdict, you know?” Zangeneh said. “Listen, in a death penalty case when you get guilty of first degree murder you realize that's it. Your life is over. You're either going to die from natural causes in a maximum security prison or you're going to die on death row as a result of lethal injection. "

Garcia was sentenced at 11 a.m. after the judge had a chance to finish reading several victim impact statements.

The Markel family – who previously described Dan Markel’s murder as “shocking and surreal” - was there to see Garcia fingerprinted and led away to start serving his life sentence.

“We respect the process,” Dan Markel’s mother Ruth Markel said afterward. “There is a lot more work to be done and we're looking forward and hoping it will be done soon."

“We want to thank all of the law enforcement, state attorney's office and we also appreciate all of the support we got from Dan's friends and the Tallahassee community," Ruth Markel said.

Lead prosecutor Georgia Cappleman said she was happy with the life sentence and reiterated that she intends to retry Garcia’s girlfriend and co-defendant Katherine Magbanua as soon as possible.

"That depends if the lawyers are going to stay on,” Cappleman said. “Then I think we can handle it pretty quickly . If she's getting new attorneys, then they'll have to get up to speed and that will take some time."

A judge could set a new trial date for Magbanua as early as next Tuesday during a scheduled case management hearing.

Dan Markel’s friends and neighbors say Sigfredo Garcia’s conviction and life sentence are a relief.

"I just felt it had been a long time coming," neighbor Dot Inman Johnson said. 'It took so long."

"I think justice has been served," neighbor Reggie Garcia said.

Neighbor Reggie Garcia says he still thinks about Markel and his murder every time he drives past his house.

“I think everybody has the same reaction that we have been living in an alternative universe for five years and that one day something is going to happen and this really didn't happen. We are going to see Dan at the grocery store. Obviously that's not the case," Reggie Garcia said.

The sentencing of Sigfredo Garcia, one Reggie Garcia believes as appropriate, "I never talked to Dan about the death penalty but something tells me he would have thought a life sentence would have been more appropriate."

He furthers, "Mr. Garcia is going to spend the rest of his natural life in prison and given that he took a life that certainly is the appropriate sanction."

Garcia taught occasionally in Markel's law class. He calls him prolific in his craft, and says he knew he was unlike any other after bringing food to his students when he returned from a trip to New York.

Markel's death is still emotional for him, "I think of how quickly and how brutally he was killed, didn't have a chance to defend himself. And how it was completely senseless and for all the wrong reasons. there is never a reason to take another's life but certainly not for money which is what these cold blooded killers did."

Dorothy Inman-Johnson, otherwise known as Dot, says the neighborhood thought it was a burglary gone wrong, the day of his death. When she learned differently, "I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that somebody would send, hire killers all the way from South Florida to take the life of someone who was just going about his business being a good dad being a good law professor."

The pair of neighbors still believes justice needs to be served, as Magbanua awaits retrial. "A different jury will hopefully find that she was part of the conspiracy," shares Reggie Garcia, "I think that if you hire the killer and you hire the driver , and you pay the shooter and the driver then you are just as guilty as if you had pulled the trigger yourself."

"If she did have something to do with his death I really feel that she should have to bear consequences for that," says Inman-Johnson.

Neighbor Dot Inman Johnson says she hopes Sigfredo Garcia’s life sentence brings the Markel family some closure, "At least knowing that somebody is paying a price for what happened to him has to help at least a little bit."

As a grandparent, Inman Johnson says, she hopes Dan Markel's parents will have a chance to see their grandchildren again one day.

"I'm hoping the ex-wife's parents and her family understand how important it is for them to have access to their grandchildren," she said.

The boys were three and five years old when their father was killed.

Inman-Johnson hares she will never forget the man who lived just next door, "I can never pass that house without thinking of Dan...I don't have to pass the house because I can look out my living room window and see that house. And I will never forget what happened at that house."

Garcia has been in the Leon County Jail since his arrest in 2016.

He will soon be transferred into the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections. A spokesman for the Leon County Sheriff's Office says that usually happens within a week or so.

A DOC spokesman says Garcia will first go to a receiving center for evaluation and will then be transferred to a prison based on his security status and available bed space. There's no guarantee that will be near his home in Miami, the DOC said.

By: Julie Montanaro | WCTV Eyewitness News

October 15, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — After just 35 minutes of deliberation, the jury has decided to give Sigfredo Garcia life in prison without parole for his conviction in the 2014 murder of FSU law professor Dan Markel.

The judge officially imposed Garcia's life sentence for the murder, plus 30 years for the count of conspiracy to commit murder, at 11 a.m. Garcia has 30 days to file an appeal.

The jury found the state proved that Garcia committed the murder for financial gain and that it was cold, calculated and premeditated, but the jury decided the aggravating factors did not outweigh the mitigating factors in the case.

Copyright 2019 WCTV. All rights reserved.

By: Julie Montanaro | WCTV Eyewitness News

October 14, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla (WCTV) - The same jury that convicted Sigfredo Garcia of first degree murder in the death of FSU Professor Dan Markel, will soon decide if he should get a life sentence or a death sentence.

The jury listened to nearly four hours of testimony during the penalty phase of Garcia's trial Monday afternoon.

Circuit Judge James Hankinson told jurors to be back at 8:45 Tuesday morning for attorneys' closing arguments. Jurors will then begin deliberations .

A forensic psychologist called the to the stand Monday refuted defense claims that Garcia suffers from depression.

“I saw no indication historically, he was described as pathologically depressed or described as not adjusting well because of depression or prescribed any medications designed to treat depression,” Dr. Gregory Prichard said, “So I wouldn’t agree with that diagnosis because it doesn’t seem to be supported.”

Prichard’s testimony came after Dr. Julie Harper described Garcia as suffering from depression and anxiety.

“If I look at Mr. Garcia’s records, the thing that does not stand out is treatment for mental health symptoms. Anxiety or depression. It’s nowhere. The thing that does stand out is the criminal behavior,” Prichard said.

Prichard testified that he was not able to meet with Garcia until after his conviction. Prichard said he reviewed Garcia’s records in advance and evaluated Garcia for the first time on Sunday.

“He’s a capable guy. He’s a smart guy. He could have done a lot with his life were it not for the choices he made in terms of his criminal conduct,” Prichard said.

Garcia’s defense team called a forensic psychologist to the stand Monday afternoon to describe his troubled childhood and his turbulent relationship with girlfriend and co-defendant Katherine Magbanua.

Dr. Julie Harper interviewed Garcia on multiple occasions within the last month.

She shared photos of Garcia as a child and as a young man, including one as he hugged a very pregnant Magbanua.

Harper testified that Garcia had a difficult childhood, with his father incarcerated and his mother struggling to raise three children. She testified that his mother worked two or three jobs but still struggled to pay the light bill and put food on the table. She testified that Garcia’s father later abandoned the family, saying he was going out to the play lottery and never came back.

Harper testified that Garcia has been arrested at least nine times, including the first time at the age of six for stomping on the hood of a car.

Harper testified that Katherine Magbanua was “substantially dominate” over Garcia in their relationship. Harper testified that Magbanua threatened to take their kids to the Philippines and told Garcia, “you’re a terrible father.”

Harper testified that Garcia was depressed in the months leading up to the murder, fearing that he and Magbanua had broken up for good.

"He didn't really care that much if he lived or died because his value and his self-worth was tied to working. He takes a lot of pride in being a good worker and he couldn't work. And he also takes a lot of pride in being a good father and yet he was prevented access to his children often and he also felt, you know, the loss of being a good husband or mate."

Defense attorney Saam Zangeneh asked the jury for mercy.

“That's where we are and that's what we're asking," Zangeneh said.

Zangeneh told the jury that even if they do find there’s an aggravating circumstance, they don’t have to vote for the death penalty.

“Aggravaters just get you to the next level and that ultimately you guys can look at this case and say is this the case ... is this the type of case … with his role in the big picture that he should get a needle?” Zangeneh said. “We submit to you the answer is no."

Dan Markel's mother took the stand Monday afternoon to describe the impact her son’s murder has had on their family.

"There is not a single day that goes by when thoughts of Danny don't enter our minds,” Ruth Markel said. “His murder has been horrible for us, shocking, surreal, hard to understand. Danny is never coming back but we continue to hope and pray for justice."

Ruth Markel read a prepared statement to the jury detailing Markel’s achievements: graduating from Harvard Law School, teaching at Florida State’s College of Law and starting a popular legal blog. Markel said his proudest achievement was being a father to his two young sons.

“The lives of Dan’s two sons, my grandchildren, were forever turned upside down as a result of this crime. Benjamin was four years old and Lincoln was only three years old,” Ruth Markel said. “Benjamin and Lincoln have been forever deprived of a relationship with their father and will grow up and go through life without a father.”

Ruth Markel was the first witness called to the stand Monday afternoon as jurors begin to decide whether Sigfredo Garcia should face life in prison without parole or the death penalty for Dan Markel’s murder.

By: Julie Montanaro | WCTV Eyewitness News

October 14, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — A jury could soon decide life or death for the convicted triggerman in the Dan Markel murder.

Sigfredo Garcia was convicted Friday of first degree murder and conspiracy.

The jury returned at 1 p.m. Monday to begin hearing testimony in the penalty phase.

Under Florida law, those convicted of first degree murder can be sentenced to life In prison without parole or sentenced to death.

Jurors must be unanimous if they recommend the death penalty.

Attorneys gathered Monday morning to discuss the aggravating and mitigating factors they intend to present to the jury.

The state says it could call Luis Rivera back to the stand and intends to call a member of the Markel family to the stand to discuss the impact of the crime.

Prosecutor Eddie Evans says they are also prepared to question Sigfredo Garcia should he decide to take the stand.

Defense attorney Saam Zangeneh did not comment on that. Zangeneh says they intend to argue Garcia was under mental and emotional duress and his participation in the crime was “minor.”

The judge tentatively estimated testimony could last all afternoon and the jury could begin deliberating Tuesday.

Copyright 2019 WCTV. All rights reserved.