Donna Adelson helped orchestrate the murder of her son-in-law amid a fierce custody battle with the suspect's daughter, prosecutors allege
The mother of a man convicted last week of hiring a hitman to kill his brother-in-law is now considered one of the masterminds behind the murder plot, authorities allege in a probable cause affidavit.
Donna Adelson, 73, was arrested on Monday night at Miami International Airport where she and her husband, Harvey Adelson, were planning to board a flight to Vietnam with a two-day stop in Dubai, according to the probable cause affidavit, which was obtained by PEOPLE.
Donna is charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and solicitation to commit first-degree murder in the 2014 death of Florida State University law professor Dan Markel, 41.
Donna's arrest came exactly one week after her son, Charlie Adelson, was convicted on the same charges.
Three others have been convicted in connection with the murder of Markel, a father of two who was killed while sitting in his car in the garage of his home in Tallahassee.
Charlie enlisted the help of his then-girlfriend, Katherine “Katie” Magbanua, to hire the father of her children, Sigfredo “Tuto” Garcia, to kill Markel, prosecutors argued.
In 2022, Magbanua was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of first-degree murder, conspiracy and solicitation to commit murder. Her first trial resulted in a hung jury.
Garcia had his longtime friend, Luis “Tato” Rivera, help him, prosecutors said. Rivera pleaded guilty in 2016 to second-degree murder in Markel’s fatal shooting and is serving a 19-year sentence in prison.
Garcia, the suspected triggerman who drove to Tallahassee with Rivera from Miami to commit the crime, was convicted in 2019 and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years for conspiracy.
The probable cause affidavit details Donna’s alleged role in having Markel killed because she was furious that Markel wouldn’t allow Wendi to move with the children to South Florida to be closer to her and her family.
According to the affidavit, authorities claim there is probable cause to believe that Garcia and Rivera murdered Markel and that the murder “was arranged through Katherine Magbanua, Charlie Adelson and Donna Adelson.”
Markel was killed amidst a bitter custody battle after Wendi filed for divorce in Sept. 2012, and their divorce was finalized in July 2013.
Wendi said that after the divorce, she wanted to move with her two sons to South Florida, where her family lived.
On June 20, 2013, a judge denied Wendi Adelson’s motion to move to Miami with the children, which allegedly sent Donna, the matriarch of the family, into a rage, prosecutors said.
After the court denial, “Wendi’s parents, especially her mother, Donna Adelson,” repeatedly tried to convince Wendi to coerce Markel into allowing the children to move closer to them, the affidavit says.
Donna suggested the family offer Markel $1 million to let Wendi and the kids move to South Florida, which he refused.
She also suggested that Wendi threaten to convert the children to Catholicism, “knowing Markel was very observant in his Jewish faith,” it says.
Wendi Adelson’s ex-boyfriend told authorities that Wendi said Charlie had “seriously looked into hiring a hitman” in the summer of 2013 and that it would cost either $15,000 or $50,000, the affidavit alleges.
On Friday, July 18, 2014, at 11:02 a.m., Tallahassee police officers were called to 2116 Trescott Drive where they found Markel slumped over the driver’s seat of his Honda Accord from a gunshot wound to the head.
He was rushed to a local hospital where he later died from his injuries.
Investigators located Wendi at a local restaurant and took her to the police department for an interview, when she “made statements suggesting the murder of Markel could have been arranged by someone on her behalf, without her knowledge,” the affidavit states.
“Wendi indicated her parents were very angry at Markel and further suggested that someone could have arranged the murder thinking it would help her,” the affidavit claims.
She allegedly said that her brother, Charlie, had joked about hiring a hitman to kill Markel in the past, according to the affidavit.
She also said her brother was known for making “jokes in bad taste,” it says.
'Plans to Flee to a Non-Extradition Country'
The probable cause affidavit alleges that after Charlie was found guilty, Donna called her son in jail, telling him about her plans for the future.
Over multiple phone calls, she told Charlie she was “getting things in order, creating trusts and making sure her grandchildren are taken care of,” the affidavit states.
“Donna discusses plans for a suicide, but also discusses plans to flee to a non-extradition country,” the affidavit alleges.
It noted that Donna has “considerable financial resources to accomplish this.”
It is unclear whether Donna has retained an attorney who can speak on her behalf.
She remains held in jail without bail pending a transfer to Tallahassee.
Charlie will be sentenced in December. He faces a mandatory life sentence.
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