Prosecutor questions Florida dentist's claim he was extorted, not a murder-for-hire mastermind

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida dentist on trial in his ex-brother-in-law's slaying testified Friday that he never explained to authorities that he was a victim of extortion — and not the mastermind behind a 2014 murder-for-hire plot — because no one asked him to reveal the truth.

Prosecutors contend Charles Adelson paid to have Dan Markel killed after Adelson's sister, Wendi, lost a bitter custody battle. Adelson claims investigators got it wrong, and while he knew shortly after the murder that his ex-girlfriend's friends were the killers, he didn't say anything because he thought his life was in danger.

Nine years after Markel, a prominent Florida State University law professor, was shot by hitmen while sitting in his car outside his Tallahassee home, Adelson admitted when questioned by his lawyer Thursday that he paid the killers money after the fact, but said it was only because he was being threatened. The tie between Adelson and the killers was his ex-girlfriend, Katherine Magbanua, who came to Adelson's home shortly after the slaying, admitted her friends killed Markel and told him he needed to pay more than $300,000 in 48 hours or be killed too.

On Friday, prosecutor Georgia Cappleman tried poking holes in his story, saying nobody put a gun to Adelman's head when he gave Magbanua $138,000 in cash and arranged “some kind of layaway plan” for the rest of the payment. Cappleman noted Adelson spent the night with Magbanua before she left with the money the next day, and even after they broke up continued to give her expensive gifts, put her on his family's dentistry payroll and gave her $3,000 a month to pass onto the extortionists.

“Do extortionists send a girlfriend of their victim to collect their extortion money? Is that the way it’s done?” Cappleman asked sarcastically.

Cappleman also noted that Adelson had sexual relations with Magbanua months after the murder and continued to to tell her he loved her via texts. Adelson said he didn't think Magbanua was orchestrating the extortion and was convinced she was protecting him from the killers. The monthly payments were like a life insurance policy keeping him alive, he said.

“I didn't get killed, I didn't get robbed. The extortion never went up. She was protecting me,” Adelson said.

Prosecutors contend that Adelson paid to have the professor killed and that Magbanua hired Sigfredo Garcia, the father of her two children, to commit the murder and that Garcia enlisted the help of his childhood friend, Luis Rivera. Magbanua and Garcia were convicted of first-degree murder and Rivera is serving a 19-year sentence after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for testifying against Garcia and Magbanua.

Adelson is charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy and soliciting the killing.

Markel and Wendi Adelson were divorced and shared custody of their two kids, but she wanted to move from Tallahassee to South Florida to be closer to her family. A judge ruled that Wendi Adelson couldn’t move the children from Tallahassee, and Markel refused to move to South Florida.

Charles Adelson testified Thursday that, before the killing, his family offered Markel $1 million to move to South Florida so the children could be near their mother. Adelson said he offered to pay one-third of the cost. He told Magbanua details of the proposal and the contentious custody battle, and she later told Garcia.

Adelson said he was convinced Garcia and Rivera acted on their own and Magbanua was innocent, even after she was arrested in 2016. It wasn't until three years later when she was on trial that he realized Magbanua was part of the plot, he told Cappleman.

“For three years she was in the Leon County jail awaiting trial ... and you believed she was innocent and you had this whole explanation to assist with exonerating her, right?” Cappleman said.

“I had the truth of what happened, yes,” Adelson said.

“But you didn't offer the truth of what happened, did you?” Cappleman said.

“Nobody came to me. I thought the truth would come out,” he replied.

Asked how if he felt bad about not letting Markel's parents know the truth about what happened to their son, Adelson said, “I feel a sense of relief that I was able to tell everyone what finally happened.”

“Yesterday. Almost 10 years later, right?” Cappleman said.

“Yeah,” Adelson said with a sigh.

Both sides will give their closing arguments on Monday before the jury begins deliberations.