The trial of a man accused in the murder of a prominent Canadian legal scholar in Florida has been postponed after his co-accused pleaded guilty and told investigators the killing was a murder-for-hire rooted in a bitter child custody dispute.
Sigfredo Garcia was set to stand trial in November for the death of Dan Markel, a law professor at Florida State University who was born in Toronto. The proceedings were delayed this week at the request of his lawyers.
“It was related to the statements and expected testimony of his co-defendant,” Florida State Attorney Willie Meggs said of the delay.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman added that Garcia’s defence team said they were not ready to go to trial.
Earlier this month, Garcia’s co-accused, Luis Rivera, pleaded guilty in Markel’s murder and told investigators he and Garcia were paid to kill the professor because the academic’s ex-wife allegedly wanted full custody of their two children.
In the videotaped statement, recently posted online by the Tallahassee Democrat, Rivera said Garcia asked him to help in the plot, which he alleged Markel’s ex-wife was connected to.
Rivera also told investigators that he waited in a car while Garcia shot Markel.
Rivera said he, Garcia and a woman named Katherine Magbanua, who was their connection with the family of Markel’s ex-wife, divided up payment for the hit. Magbanua is also charged in the case.
Markel was gunned down in the garage of his Tallahassee home in July 2014.
Tallahassee police have alleged that he was the victim of a murder-for-hire plot triggered by his 2013 divorce from his ex-wife and fellow lawyer Wendi Adelson.
According to court documents, before the couple’s divorce was finalized the two fought over Adelson’s push to move their two young children to South Florida to be closer to her family.
At the time of Markel’s death, the two were battling over money, with Adelson contending that Markel did not pay her as much as he was supposed to under their divorce agreement. Markel complained that his mother-in-law was disparaging him and wanted the court to prohibit her from having unsupervised visits with his children, court documents have shown.
Adelson and her family have denied any involvement in his death and she has not been charged. Her brother, Charlie Adelson, has come under police suspicion.
VIDEO: Toronto lawyer killed in Florida remembered by colleagues
Rivera’s statement to investigators marked the first time a suggestion was made that Wendi Adelson allegedly knew of the plot.
Her lawyer told The Canadian Press he could not comment on Rivera’s statement.
Rivera said he didn’t know of Markel before Garcia involved him in the plot. He also said he didn’t initially know he was going to be helping kill someone.
“I thought we were going to come up here to rob somebody,” he told investigators. “When I got in the car, that’s when Garcia told me…we were coming here to kill somebody.”
After Garcia showed him a photograph of Markel, Rivera asked why the professor was a target.
“I asked him, ‘Why you going to kill him?”‘ Rivera said of his conversation with Garcia. “He said ‘It’s because the lady wants her kids back. She wants full custody of the two kids…that was the deal. That’s why we went to go kill that man.”
Garcia and Magbanua spoke on the phone about the alleged plot multiple times, said Rivera.
“He said ‘Katie told me this lady’s going to hire me, but I want you to go with me,”‘ Rivera said, noting that Garcia promised him $35,000. “They were hiring him, they were not hiring me.”
The two men ended up making two separate trips to Tallahassee, Rivera said, and Markel was killed on the second one.
The day before the murder, however, when Rivera and Garcia were driving outside Markel’s house, a woman was walking along the street with two children, Rivera said.
“I ask Garcia, ‘What’s up with this lady, why she looking so much? He said ‘Oh, that’s that lady, that’s Wendi,” Rivera said. ” I said ‘What is she doing up here? (He said) ‘She came to make sure everything’s all right because he’s leaving out of town tomorrow, so it’s got to get done tomorrow morning before he leaves.”‘
When the time came to kill Markel, Rivera said Garcia shot the professor twice before jumping into a car which Rivera drove away.
Garcia’s case will be in court for a case management hearing on Dec. 6.