A renowned law professor was unexpectedly and tragically murdered in his home in 2014, sending shockwaves to his family, colleagues, students, and the rest of the community. In the episode titled ‘Family Matters’ of ‘Dateline NBC,’ we are provided with the intricate details of the complicated murder case of Dan Markel, including the events that led to his demise and the aftermath that followed. Thanks to the interviews with the 41-year-old professor’s loved ones and officials involved in solving the case, viewers get to learn more about him and find out the identity of the perpetrator/s.
How Did Dan Markel Die?
On October 9, 1972, Phil and Ruth Markel gave birth to Daniel Eric “Dan” Markel in Toronto, Ontario. Raised in a Jewish family in Toronto alongside his sister Shelly Markel, Dan studied politics and philosophy as an undergraduate student at Harvard University. Next, he went to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for his graduate studies before earning a master’s degree in political theory from Emmanuel College, Cambridge. In 2001, he received his JD from Harvard Law School. Dan also spent a significant amount of time in New York as he was a scholar in residence at New York University’s law school.
After gaining experience by working as a law clerk to a federal judge and an associate with the law firm Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel in Washington, DC, he became a law professor at Florida State University (FSU) in 2005. He wrote several academic articles and essays for Slate, The Atlantic, and The New York Times, as well as a book titled ‘Privilege or Punish: Criminal Justice and the Challenge of Family Ties,’ which was published in 2009. Apart from that, he also made appearances on radio shows and was active on the academic law blog PrawfsBlawg.
On the personal front, Dan was always on the receiving end of warm compliments as he was not only an intelligent scholar and professor, but he was just as compassionate, loving, and caring. During his time in Washington DC, he first crossed paths with Wendi Adelson on JDate. As the two got to know each other better, one thing led to another and they tied the knot in February 2006. Soon, Wendi accepted a lesser law professor position at the FSU. They gave birth to two sons in the next four years of their marriage — Benjamin and Lincoln Markel. At the time of his death, Dan reportedly held the post of D’Alemberte Professor of Law at the FSU College of Law.
On July 18, 2014, neighbors around 41-year-old Dan Markel’s Tallahassee home heard a loud bang and informed the same to the authorities. When the police rushed to the scene, they found Dan in critical condition with a gunshot wound. He was taken to the hospital immediately, but unfortunately, he died the very next morning in the hospital. Meanwhile, the detectives swarmed the crime scene and launched an investigation for the potential murder of the law professor.
Who Killed Dan Markel?
While the police did not have any suspects, to begin with, they were quick to set up a tip line to get all the help required to get to the bottom of the case. They even announced a reward of up to $1,000 for any concrete information that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrator/s. Upon interrogating Dan’s loved ones, the investigators found out about the fact that he and his ex-wife, Wendi, got divorced in 2013 and were in the middle of custody proceedings for their kids, leading to a lot of tension between the two families. In 2012, Wendi reportedly left Dan with their children while he was out of town. Although the court granted joint custody to the ex-couple, it was ruled that the children must stay in Tallahassee.
The ruling was challenged several times by Wendi but to no avail. She even went on to claim that Dan had been emotionally abusive towards her throughout the course of their marriage. After a couple of years of intense investigation, the police arrested one of the prime suspects, Sigfredo Garcia, on May 26, 2016, for the first-degree murder of Dan Markel. Upon digging further into the case, the investigators learned that Garcia worked with one Luis Rivera, both of whom stayed in motels for a couple of nights before murdering Dan.
The authorities even found some incriminating pieces of evidence against the duo, including a cellphone, security camera footage, banking and SunPass electronic toll collection records, and the testimony of an informant and a witness. Since there was no direct connection between the killers and Dan, the police believed that it was a contract killing, and they turned out to be right about it. Reportedly, Wendi’s brother, Charles “Charlie” Adelson, and mother, Donna Adelson, took the help of Charlie’s then-girlfriend, Katherine “Katie” Magbanua, to get Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera to carry out the murderous deed.
As far as the motive was concerned, the Adelsons wanted Wendi to be able to relocate to Miami with the children, which seemed impossible with Dan still in the picture. Moreover, just before his death, Dan filed a motion to get his mother-in-law prohibited from being alone and unsupervised with his children. So, Charlie paid a large sum of money to Katherine, who hired Garcia and Rivera to kill Dan. In less than a month of Garcia’s arrest, on June 17, 2016, Garcia and Rivera were indicted on charges of first-degree murder in Dan’s murder case. There were more developments in the case, as on October 1, 2016, Katherine Magbanua was also arrested and charged with murder.
Consequently, on October 4, 2016, Luis Rivera accepted a plea deal by pleading guilty to the charge of murder and got himself sentenced to 19 years in prison, which ran concurrently with the sentence he was already serving. He testified that Garcia had hired him to kill Dan and confirmed that Katherine was the one in the middle of it all. While he did not know the names of the people who recruited Garcia and Katherine, he could tell that it was about the custody of the kids. After three long years in custody, both Katherine and Garcia stood for their respective trials together in October 2019. While the former kept denying any involvement in the murder, Garcia blamed Rivera for taking out Dan alone.
However, despite his claims, Garcia was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, plus an additional 30 years for conspiracy, without the possibility of parole. As for Katherine, the jury was unable to reach a verdict, and she remained behind bars while awaiting a retrial. The case developed even further when the police finally arrested Charlie Adelson on April 21, 2022, for first-degree murder and conspiracy and solicitation to commit murder. Moreover, the law professor’s ex-wife, Wendi, and mother-in-law, Donna, were also found to be involved with the murder.
When the retrial of Katherine began in May 2022, she was convicted of the same charges as her former boyfriend, Charlie Adelson, was arrested for, and received a life imprisonment sentence without the possibility of parole, with an additional 30 years for the conspiracy and another 30 years of the solicitation. Now, it was 46-year-old Charlie’s turn to stand trial for his charges. Only a couple of weeks into the trial, he was convicted of all the charges against him, and on December 12, 2023, he received the same sentence as Katherine. While he was on trial, his mother, Donna Adelson, was arrested at the Miami International Airport on November 13, 2023, trying to escape to Vietnam. She was apprehended for the same charges as her son.