TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The fatal shooting of a Florida State University law professor in his upscale neighbourhood two years ago was part of a murder-for-hire scheme that may have been set in motion by a bitter divorce between the Canadian professor and his ex-wife, according to court records released Thursday.
Sigfredo Garcia was arrested last week in South Florida and charged with murder in connection with the July 2014 death of Daniel Markel, who was shot in the head in his garage as he talked on his cellphone in the middle of the day. A second man, Luis Rivera, is also considered a suspect and will also be charged with murder, Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo said at a news conference Thursday.
According to police affidavits contained in court records, both Rivera and Garcia came to Tallahassee from South Florida as part of a plot to kill Markel. While DeLeo would not say whether the two men were paid, he said there was “good information” that they were hired to shoot Markel.
“It was not a random act that they came up here,” DeLeo said.
Rivera is currently in a federal prison for an unrelated crime. Garcia’s lawyer, Jim Lewis, says his client will plead not guilty to the murder charge filed against him and will ask to be released from jail.
The marriage between Markel, an attorney from Toronto known internationally, and fellow attorney Wendi Adelson, made the pages of the New York Times in 2006. Wendi Adelson’s father and brother run a well-established dental practice in South Florida.
A Tallahassee Police Department affidavit unsealed by a judge contends that Markel’s death was the result of a contentious divorce from Adelson, who now lives in Miami Beach and works for a federal judge. DeLeo echoed that as well, saying, “Their relationship was a motivating factor in his murder.”
Markel and his wife divorced in 2013, but before it was finalized the two fought over Wendi Adelson’s push to move her two small children to South Florida to be closer to her family, court records show. 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, according to the records. Markel also complained that his mother-in-law was disparaging him and wanted the court to prohibit her from having unsupervised visits with his children.
The arrest affidavit states that “investigators believe motive for this murder stemmed from the desperate desire of the Adelson family to relocate Wendi and their children to South Florida, along with the pending court hearing that might have impacted their access to the grandchildren.”
Wendi Adelson has not returned phone calls made to her in the past week, but in an email she sent last Friday she stated that she hoped Garcia’s arrest “will finally bring some closure” to the case. She did not respond immediately to phone calls and an email Thursday.
DeLeo said Thursday that he would not say if any other people were suspects in the case.
According to court documents, investigators contend that Garcia and Rivera followed Markel from a nearby gym before he was shot.
The police say that cellphone information showed the two men were in the Tallahassee area shortly before Markel’s death and that there are records linking the two men to a Prius that a neighbour of Markel reported seeing pull out of the driveway right after hearing a gunshot. Investigators also say that an unidentified eyewitness met with Garcia and the other man in Tallahassee a month before the shooting.
Lewis, however, said that none of the information contained in the court documents shows that his client killed Markel.
“What’s absent in this case is that there’s no physical evidence linking my client to it,” Lewis said. “There’s no eyewitness. I’m not aware of any video showing them there.”
Markel’s shooting in the middle of the day stunned colleagues as well as residents in the affluent Tallahassee neighbourhood where he lived. He died at a hospital where he was taken after being shot.