Petitions, protests and … prosecutorial discretion: Leon County residents push for justice, equity on 6th anniversary of Dan Markel murder

In 2020, we know that petitions have worked elsewhere. Perhaps, now, in Tallahassee, too.

In recent months, Americans have demonstrated the effectiveness of petitions, protest, and public outcry in getting the attention of district attorneys who drag their feet (or fully avoid) charging powerful people with crimes against the more vulnerable.

Leon County residents appear to have taken notice.

Six years after Florida State University law professor Dan Markel was murdered in his home by hitmen who investigators say were hired by family members of his ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, his friends initiated a petition urging State Attorney Jack Campbell to bring charges against more of those responsible. The three accomplices that were hired to carry out the killing have already been arrested, but the family members who hired them remain free.

In less than a day, more than 600 Leon County residents (and others from around the state and globe) have added their names to the petition, and the campaign to circulate the petition is just beginning.

This case raises so many questions — legal and political alike:

— Is it a coincidence that the three arrested parties are all poor people of color, while the Adelsons are wealthy, white, and politically connected?

— How can the state use a common set of facts to make a case against two hitmen — and win! — without even trying to make a case against the people who hired them?

 — Should prosecutors avoid charging suspects unless guaranteed a conviction at jury?

To the latter question, voters say, “no.”

In multiple surveys, voters say they feel justice is served when a suspect has his or her day in court, whatever the outcome is. And, when voting for state attorneys, people care a whole lot more about the candidate’s willingness to fight tough but important battles than they do about win-loss ratios.

In other words, a perceived misuse of prosecutorial discretion is far more damaging to a state attorney’s reelection than is taking a stand but losing.

State attorneys are elected, not appointed, for a reason — to maintain that in some measure, their choices reflect ours.

In between elections, though — the only recourse for victims and communities that perceive injustice in their prosecutor’s choices is to draw it into the public sphere.

If Palm Beach voters had petitioned for Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest, would it have still taken 10 years to get there? Would he have still been let off the hook if people made clear they were watching?

Who knows …?

But in 2020, we know that petitions such as this have worked elsewhere. Perhaps, now, in Tallahassee, too.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


  • Steph

    July 15, 2020 at 12:42 pm

    Very persuasive argument. I worry that in the face of the overdue and justified heightened sensitivity to racial inequality, jurors will be more inclined to acquit Katie in the face of the freedom enjoyed by the rich, white, evil Adelsons.

    • james Waczewski

      July 16, 2020 at 2:42 am

      That was precisely what led one of the jurors in the last trial to vote not-guilty as to Katherine Magbanua. The interview of that juror is available on YouTube. Even for the retrial of Magbanua – one of the major problems for the State is the bad perception that arises from their persuasive closing argument that suggests that Charlie and Donna (and maybe even Wendi) hired Katherine and her ex, Sigfredo, to help them get rid of their North Florida problem (kill Dan Markel) – yet none of the people who supposedly hired Katherine and Sigfredo have been arrested. The State Attorney’s decision not to charge any of the Adelsons hurt the case against Magbanua – because jurors could think – “If the State does not have enough to even charge the Adelsons, then none of the circumstantial evidence that they are showing us here has any value. The only different with Katie is that Luis Rivera talked. So it is like none of the evidence has any value unless someone with a lot of interest to lie decides to speak against the next person up the pyramid.”
      This weak approach makes an otherwise excellent case seem weaker than it really is. Cappleman made a strong closing argument – and the juror who voted not-guilty as to Magbanua was convinced by Cappleman’s argument (during Closing) that several of the Adelsons were involved.

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