'Conspiracy to murder': Jury selection goes behind closed doors in Katherine Magbanua retrial

GAVEL-TO-GAVEL COVERAGE: The Tallahassee Democrat will livestream each day of the trial of Katherine Magbanua from the courthouse in Tallahassee. Watch on Tallahassee.com and on the Tallahassee Democrat's Facebook page. For best viewing experience: Download the Tallahassee Democrat app to watch and receive text alerts on when to watch – from opening arguments to the verdict.

The second trial of Katherine Magbanua — the alleged conduit between the hired gunmen who killed Dan Markel and his in-laws who allegedly hired them — began Monday with jury selection.

Magbanua, whose first trial in 2019 ended with a hung jury, is on trial on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and solicitation of first-degree murder.

The court set aside two days to select a 12-person jury and four alternates. Because the case has gotten so much publicity, lawyers questioned potential jurors individually and behind closed doors at the Leon County Courthouse.

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Leon Circuit Judge Robert Wheeler explained to prospective jurors that they would be questioned individually to avoid tainting the rest of the pool.

“That’s the only way we can do this so that we’re not providing information to the whole group about what one potential juror knows,” Wheeler said.

The court planned to question as many as 200 potential jurors over Monday and Tuesday. Depending on how quickly the process goes, opening arguments could begin either Tuesday afternoon on Wednesday morning.

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A noted law professor at Florida State University, Markel was shot and killed on July 18, 2014, in the garage of his Betton Hills home. Prosecutors have alleged that his former in-laws arranged to have him killed over a bitter child custody battle with his ex-wife, Wendi Adelson.

His former in-laws are alleged to have hired two killers, Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera, with help from Magbanua. She claimed to have worked in the dental office of Charlie Adelson, Markel’s brother-in-law, and shares children with Garcia, her longtime boyfriend.

Defense attorney Tara Kawass talks to Katherine Magbanua at the start of jury selection on Monday, May 16, 2022 for Magbanua's trial on charges she was involved in the murder of Dan Markel.
Defense attorney Tara Kawass talks to Katherine Magbanua at the start of jury selection on Monday, May 16, 2022 for Magbanua's trial on charges she was involved in the murder of Dan Markel.

Charlie Adelson was arrested last month on first-degree murder charges; prosecutors plan to try him later. Rivera and Garcia, who drove from Miami to Tallahassee to carry out the hit, both were convicted on murder charges for their role in the crime.

Adelson arrest:

Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman read a short synopsis of the case aloud for prospective jurors.

“It’s alleged that this defendant was a member of a conspiracy to murder Markel, which included the family of his former wife and the people who traveled to Tallahassee to kill him,” Cappleman said.

Cappleman and Assistant State Attorney Sarah Dugan sat alongside Magbanua's lawyers, Chris DeCoste and Tara Kawass of Miami, in the jury room as they questioned potential panelists with Judge Wheeler.

One man said he's followed the case closely over the past seven-plus years. He said he had formed "some opinion" about the conspiracy charge and wasn't sure he could put that aside.

"It certainly appears there was a connection" between Magbanua and others involved in the plot, said the man, whom Wheeler excused from the jury pool.

Not all of those summoned for jury duty were familiar with the sensational case, which made headlines across the globe. One woman said she hadn't read or seen anything it.

"Do you think you can be a fair and impartial juror?" Wheeler asked her.

"I do," said the woman, who was asked to return for Tuesday's second round of jury selection.

Contact Jeff Burlew at jburlew@tallahassee.com or follow @JeffBurlew on Twitter.

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Dan Markel murder: Jury selection begins for Magbanua retrial