Jury seated, witness list clarified, internet chatter ramps up

From 200 potential jurors called to appear in Katherine Magbanua’s retrial for her alleged role in the 2014 murder or Dan Markel, prosecutors and defense attorneys selected about 60 on Tuesday to interview in greater detail.

One by one, Judge Robert Wheeler asked jurors to disclose if they had any personal relationships with individuals listed as witnesses, and from there, prosecutor Georgia Cappleman and defense attorneys Tara Kawass and Chris DeCoste took turns asking more pointed questions.

Cappleman’s questions related to people’s backgrounds, including experiences with the justice system and crime, while the defense wanted to know if jurors expected his client to take the stand and reminded jurors that their job is to presume her innocence unless proven otherwise.

Of the initial 21 who were individually questioned, 13 were excused. Another batch was brought in, and as of 4:45 p.m., the legal teams were still deciding which jurors would remain. But by 5:30 p.m., final jurors were selected.

“Seven men, seven women selected,” tweeted Jeff Burlew with the Tallahassee Democrat.

“We officially have a jury in Katherine Magbanua’s retrial. Jury selection took a full two days,” tweeted Jada Williams of ABC27.

The process moves slowly but is a critically important element of the trial. Opening statements are expected to begin Wednesday morning.

In the meantime, here’s a few things to think about.

Prior jurors spoke out, perhaps influencing what attorneys are focused on this time

In 2019, Magbanua’s trial ended in a hung jury, reportedly with a vote of 10-2 in which one juror was particularly opposed to conviction. At the same time, Magbanua’s co-defendant Sigfredo Garcia was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life.

What was on jurors’ minds as they deliberated? Which pieces of evidence were most compelling, and how did they perceive the credibility of various witnesses?

Sometime after the trial, two jurors spoke, including one who voted against conviction, and one who was frustrated by this outcome. You can hear their accounts here and here.

Witness lists clarified

Jurors will hear testimony from dozens of witnesses, including multiple officers with the Tallahassee Police Department, FDLE, and the FBI; neighbors who had heard the gunshot and encountered Dan Markel immediately after he was shot; a surgeon and the medical examiner; friends of Magbanua and her co-defendants; Luis Rivera, who confessed to his role in the murder and shared why they did it and how they were paid (in stapled cash); Markel’s ex-wife Wendi Adelson, who Rivera claims the murder was done on behalf of; Charlie Adelson’s ex-girlfriend, who in prior statements attested to Charlie’s safe full of stapled cash; former employees of the Adelson Institute, where Magbanua claims to have worked; a local man who encountered Garcia and Rivera during their two visits to Tallahassee and who “believe it!” was a fan favorite during the 2019 trial, if there is such a thing; and many more.

What’s as notable as who is on the witness list is who is not. In January, Magbanua’s defense team added four members of the Adelson family to their witness list — Charlie, who is now incarcerated and accused of Markel’s murder; Wendi and Donna — who were both named as co-conspirators by the state but who have not been arrested; and Harvey, the patriarch. While Wendi will appear as a state witness and will be given the limited immunity that such a subpoena confers, no Adelson family members will appear as a defense witness. All would be expected to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights, which is improper for a jury to hear.

Internet chatter ramps up

The Markel murder has been a hot topic for eight years in online circles, with engagement ramping up on Twitter with various hashtags including #danmarkel and #justicefordanmarkel, and on WebSleuthsFacebook, and increasingly, on Reddit.

One frequent commenter, Fanci Fiction, makes art out of tragedy and engages with case watchers on Twitter. Why? The answer may be simple. According to the channel’s YouTube bio, “Murder is wrong.” And on Twitter, “Y’all mind if I hate murder?”

Fanci Fiction’s videos hit across the board, with themes on Magbanua defense strategy; key pieces of intrigue or evidence such as Charlie’s peculiar use of stapled cash; code words used by conspirators; Wendi Adelson’s decision to change the last name of Dan’s children from Markel to Adelson, her drive-by the crime scene, and her bizarre inability to spell “Jibbers” on the stand despite having had Markel stored in her phone under that name; Charlie’s phone call with the undercover FBI agent; and more.

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Florida Politics is providing daily coverage of Magbanua’s retrial for the 2014 murder-for-hire of FSU law professor Markel. The case has drawn international media attention to Florida’s capital city, and we’ll share with readers the top things to watch for and discuss as proceedings unfold. Our reporting will draw from many sources, including contributor Karen Cyphers of Sachs Media, who with attorney Jason Solomon advocate with the grassroots group, Justice for Dan, to draw attention to this case and provide analysis of relevance to Florida’s political, advocacy, and legal communities.


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