Legal Law

Donna Adelson Arrested at Miami International Airport – JONATHAN TURLEY

For years, we have been following the bizarre murder-for-hire case involving the fatal shooting of Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel. All of the evidence pointed toward the family of Markel’s estranged wife Wendi Adelson. Now, her mother, Donna Adelson, 73, has been arrested trying to get on a one-way flight to Vietnam, a country without an extradition treaty with the United States.

Adelson took the stand in the murder trial of one of the alleged accomplices just two weeks after the arrest of her brother, Charlie Adelson (right) for the murder. Wendi previously seemed to implicate her brother in her initial interview with police while maintaining that she knew nothing about a murder plot of her estranged husband. The trial involved Katherine Magbanua who was found guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and solicitation of murder.

First a recap to bring you back up to speed.

Adelson and Markel married in 2006 when she was a third-year law student at the University of Miami and he was a criminal law professor at FSU. News accounts say that Markel (left) returned from a business trip to find the kids and his wife gone with divorce papers left on the bed — the start of a highly acrimonious divorce.

Sigfredo-Garcia-Luis-Rivera-300x174Magbanua is the mother of two children with Sigfredo Garcia, one of the two accused hit men (with Luis Rivera). Police say that Garcia and Rivera were “enlisted” to kill Markel in connection with his divorce from Adelson. Police traced a rental to the scene of the crime. The police have made little secret of their suspicion of Charles Adelson and his mother Donna Adelson. The family wanted Wendi Adelson to move with the children near them. The Adelsons are a wealthy family with businesses around the state.

Police became suspicious after learning that Magbanua is connected to Garcia and that she spoke more than 2,000 times to Garcia in the weeks leading up to the slaying. Prosecutors now say Charlie Adelson paid for half of a $6,000 to $7,000 breast implant surgery done by Dr. Leonard Roudner, also known as “Dr. Boobner.” That surgery occurred notably in October 2014, roughly three months after Markel’s killing. Police sought the medical records despite the insistence of Charlie Adelson’s lawyer that it was “a fishing expedition.” The court did not see it that way and granted the subpoena to confirm the surgery and payments.

Magbanua’s warrant said that Wendi’s mother was particularly upset after Markel had filed a motion to require that the children’s visitation with Wendi’s mother be supervised. He cited allegations by the children that she had called Markel “stupid” and asserted he was “taking her sunshines away from her.” Moreover, the cellphone records show that after Magbanua spoke with Charlie Adelson, he would often call his mother, Donna. For her part, Magbanua would call Garcia. Indeed, police cite “a flurry of communications between the alleged conspirators.”

Police also suggest that Magbanua was given a “significant increase” in cash bank deposits after the murder and she received paychecks from the family dental business. The thrust of the warrant is clearly more about the Adelson family than Magbanua.

Rivera has stated that he and Garcia (who reportedly pulled the trigger) saw Wendi Adelson, eyeing their car. When Garcia asked why the woman with the children was staring at them, he says that Garcia told him “Oh, that’s the lady. That’s Wendi.”

We previously discussed the police station interview of Adelson. The videotape is very emotional and at times bizarre.

In the 2014 interview, the detective tells her “That’s what this is about. There was a shooting at your home, or your ex-husband’s home. [He] has been taken to the hospital. He’s not going to survive.”  Adelson bursts into tears and exclaims  “Oh, my God,” Adelson says, sobbing throughout. “What happened. …I just don’t understand? How could this happen?”

Wendi tells the detective “I’m scared. I don’t know why this would happen . . .  It really scares me because, I mean, if there’s someone out there that’s willing to do this to him. … I’m scared for the kids.”

Given the focus on her brother, a couple of statements stand out.  She says that she is “scared someone maybe did this – not because they hate Danny but because they thought this was good somehow.”  She then admits that her brother joked with her earlier that day about how a television might be cheaper than a hit man to deal with the problems in her life.

“And I was talking to him about whether it made sense to pay to fix it or I should get a new one,” she said. “And it was always his joke that, like, he knew that Danny treated me badly, and it was always his joke, he said, I looked into hiring a hit man but it was cheaper to get you this TV.”

Adelson maintained the same line on the stand in the trial this week of Magbanua.

Her brother was convicted and reports indicate it was a prison call between Donna and her son in prison that may have led to the warrant for her arrest.

Donna was arrested at Miami International Airport as she and her husband were attempting to board a one-way flight to Vietnam.  She is heard saying “I didn’t know there was a warrant.”

She is now charged with first-degree murder and solicitation of murder.

Notably, Wendi Adelson is not charged and may have not been told of the alleged plot. The same could be true about her father.

This case rocked the legal academic community. Markel was a well-known blogger.  Wendi opposed his demands for the kids to remain in joint custody near him rather than move out of state.

We still do not know what was stated over the phone to the prison. Something clearly seemed to spook Donna Adelson. If it was not the warrant, it may have been the realization that the call could be viewed as incriminating. Otherwise, it is not clear why she would purchase a one-way ticket to a country where prosecutors could not secure her extradition.

There is one new wrinkle. Since Donna’s husband was with her on this flight, prosecutors could threaten charges against him to push Donna to accepting a plea with full disclosure of alleged conspiracy. If he purchased the ticket and facilitated what is being described as an attempted flight from justice (literally), it could give prosecutors leverage to use on Donna Adelson.  Donna’s insistence that she did not know of any warrant could be a key defense against such allegations against her or her husband.

However, even if there were a basis for charging the harboring of a fugitive or being an accessory after the fact under Florida Statute 777.03, there are defenses for family members. For example, Section 777.03 has the “related person exemption.” It exempts wives, husbands, parents, grandparents, and siblings.

Of the principal characters in the criminal saga, only Wendi and her father remain unindicated.

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