Markel Trial Day 8: Defense corners itself, State rests its case
There is some agreement over the facts in the murder of Dan Markel.

markel trial day 3
'What I'm saying is, is that this person is not going away.'

Wednesday morning began with Judge Robert Wheeler ruling on the admissibility of two State exhibits: a phone call from the undercover agent to the Adelson Institute, and a call from Charlie Adelson to the agent.

Prosecutor Georgia Cappleman argued that the call from the undercover agent to the dental practice served as an additional bump, intended “to stimulate more discussion,” which succeeded in doing so. The bump, she said, was “for the purpose of the ruse, as we’ve discussed before.” Regarding Charlie’s return call to the undercover, Cappleman said, it resulted in his assessment that the “blackmailer” was actually law enforcement, and this assessment is discussed in later calls.

Defense attorney Christopher DeCoste argued against admission of these calls, saying they “are being entered for the truth of the matter asserted” and says this was clear to him based on the State’s questioning of witnesses the prior day. DeCoste argued that the State shouldn’t be able to play the calls, only to reference they occurred.

Wheeler’s response: “Both exhibits will be admissible.”

Sanford sworn back in, and jurors listened deep

On Tuesday, the jury heard Call A, Call B, Call C, and Call D, clarifying how information flowed between conspirators after the FBI bump on Donna Adelson. In the first three calls between Donna and Charlie, Donna never mentions the name “Katie” just an “ex-girlfriend.” But nevertheless, Charlie only calls Magbanua, in which they made plans to meet up the following day, at the Dolce Vita restaurant.

“When we left off yesterday, we had a meeting occurring between Katherine Magbanua and Charlie Adelson,” Cappleman started. The two were seated “about as far back as you could go,” according to the agent who surveilled them that day.

As readers would know, but this jury would not, a transcript of their conversation exists but was ruled inadmissible for trial by Wheeler. The subtitled version significantly reduces the effort needed to hear certain statements, such as the following:

Charlie: “If they had any evidence, we would have already gone to the airport.”

Charlie: “When the fucking police show up, and there’s a doctor … there’s an oral surgeon standing there with a dead gang member in his fucking driveway, they’re not gonna come down too hard on me. And I’m not gonna talk anyway. I don’t know; I don’t trust them.”

Charlie: “What I’m saying is, is that this person is not going away. They came very equipped with details. Where did the details come from? I don’t know. The details …

Magbanua: “And there’s not a lot of people that know much about …”

Charlie: “They didn’t mention my name, which makes me think … makes me think that they don’t … these people only know part of the story, or they think they know part of the story.”

Charlie: “Let me ask you a question. When everybody was there the next day, did any of you take any money?”

Charlie: “Then what you do is you wear a wire, get this person talking, and if you can get the person to confess on wires, then you have something that you’re charging; you have a confession; you have an admission of guilt. Outside of that, there is no evidence, OK? You have a car, and you can link this person to renting that car that’s used at the scene of the crime. OK. But, you know, you have to also prove that they were also driving that day, too. They didn’t rent it and then lent it to a friend.”

Charlie: “Hey, you know who this is coming from? Inside.”

And, quite telling, considering what we know about how the killers rented a car for their fateful drive to kill Dan Markel, Charlie said this to reassure Magbanua:

Charlie: “You’ve got to understand, in order to prove it, you have to put that person at the scene at the time; not in the car. Because the fact is, it’s, like, even if, let’s say you just sat in the car, right? And then I go ahead, and I commit a crime. And then I go but your DNA is in the car. And I go, Yeah, Katie was in my car, and she got out and she did this horrible crime. OK, so then they come and get the DNA in the car and go, oh, Katie was in the car. No, Katie sat in the car for two minutes and they got in the AC and then they got out of the car. Katie has nothing to do with me robbing the Burger King. So even if I can prove that, yeah, Katie was with me, can you put Katie at the Burger King? I can put Katie … I can say that she sat in the car, yeah. What you need to do is get that little bit of evidence from you having been in the car and then they bring you into an interrogation; they’re, like, Listen, we know that you were in that fucking car, and you were in that car such and such day. We know we’ve got your DNA    even if your DNA, your fingerprints, your fucking hair is all over that fuckin car, umm, that proves, yeah, congratulations, you were in the car. It’s not a crime to sit in the car, OK? You know what I mean? My mom could have sat in the car, too. It’s not a crime. They have to prove … they have to put you at the scene at the date.

Jurors were making their best efforts to hear via individual headsets. Some had their eyes closed, focusing on the words. Others were looking at the screen, which showed a grainy image focused mostly on Charlie, in a white shirt and shorts, displaying short bursts of animated speaking.

Agent Patrick Sanford sat calm and humble, listening as intently as the jurors were despite his deep familiarity with the case. The 20+ year FBI veteran was stoic even while hearing Charlie tell Magbanua about who might come knocking if anyone goes to the authorities about the bump:

Charlie: “But let me explain something to you. If we go to the police, this is gonna put a spotlight on the investigation. The FBI. The FBI. We’re talking about a bigwig in the FBI; not like the first-year rookie. You’re gonna have a 20-year vet with the FBI knocking at your door, wanting to speak with you, and wanting to speak with your attorney.”

Charlie instructed Magbanua to call the phone number that the undercover gave his mother, telling Magbanua to say that his family was willing to pay up one time to “help” the man, as “charity.” This request set into motion an extensive series of calls between Magbanua and now-convicted killer Sigfredo Garcia.

Cappleman returned to Sanford, questioning her witness while the defense objected to what seemed to be every other sentence. “Of what we can hear in this recording, do you hear Charlie Adelson explaining to Katherine Magbanua anything about the background of the investigation?” she asked.

“No,” Sanford replied.

Through Cappleman’s next question, it was revealed to the jury that in 2019, Magbanua testified that she hadn’t heard about Markel’s murder until Garcia’s arrest in May 2016. In other words, Magbanua had testified that at the time of the Dolce Vita and wiretap recordings, “I didn’t even know there was a murder.”

This seems implausible, even with the limited information the jury had heard to date. Cappleman asked Sanford whether Magbanua had access to the new, enhanced Dolce Vita recording in advance of her 2019 testimony — whether James McElveen had yet made his clarifications to the audio.

“No, he had not,” said Sanford.

Cappleman then asked, “Are you aware of any other thing Charlie could be referencing” other than Markel’s murder that would have been on BBC news, Good Morning America, and The New York Times.

“No, I’m not,” Sanford said.

Intercepting drama, anger, and confusion

Call F was played next. Charlie had called Donna within 15 minutes of departing the Dolce Vita restaurant.

“Hey honey, how are you?” Donna answered, making small talk about how she and her grandsons — Markel’s boys — were having fun at their tennis lesson. Charlie told her he had “just had some coffee with a friend, and everything’s good.”

“Everything’s fine?” Donna asked.

“Yeah,” Charlie assured his mother, “I’m helping her out with some relationship advice … I gave her some good advice and she’s just sleeping on it.”

Donna calls Charlie back five minutes later, in Call G. Charlie reiterates what he already told her, as he is prone to do. “I hung out with my friend,” he said, “She’s gonna sleep on some stuff, and she’s gonna come tomorrow to my office …” to provide an update.

“I explained to her, with relationships, they can go one of two ways,” Charlie continued, using a phrase that he and Magbanua would repeat multiple times on wiretap, debating the possibility of the bump being either law enforcement or a legitimate blackmailer. “I truly would not worry about a thing.”

Charlie droned on, explaining to his mother how this blackmail attempt would “do them no good … they’re not going to gain anything,” if it were the police, and how if it were a legitimate blackmail attempt, it’s “really stupid” given that extortion can land someone in prison for 10 years.

Still, with Donna, Markel’s sons could be heard in the background of this call, and the sound of their voices struck this listener, and possibly the jury as well, as dissonant and heartbreaking.

Code talk ramps up, and evidence deepens on communication channels

Sanford was asked to testify about “the first conversation” captured on the wiretap between Magbanua and Garcia. At the time of the bump, the two were living together. Cappleman asked whether Magbanua and Garcia “had a chance to speak in private” following the bump, and Sanford affirmed, “Yes, they were at the house together that night.”

Call H was published, and the jury was startled by the abruptness and anger in their exchange. Magbanua was upset that Garcia wasn’t helping deal with their most recent problem, and Garcia was upset with Magbanua for lying about something.

“I’m not making that fucking phone call,” Garcia screamed, “I’m going to take care of this fucking problem.”

They hung up abruptly, but somehow the tone between them changed quickly. Just 10-15 minutes later, the two spoke again, and it was cordial, peaceful even.

Magbanua began the call trying to relay the undercover’s phone number to Garcia by framing it as a dollar amount owed to their son’s school. She was trying to let him know that the number she had given him might not be right. It takes her a while to realize that Garcia doesn’t understand that she’s talking code — he was fixated on the conversation he thought they were having, regarding school tuition. After multiple attempts at communicating the undercover’s number, Magbanua reiterates, “The amount that I gave you on the piece of paper, I don’t know if it’s 60-57 or 65-70.”

“Got it,” Garcia said.

The next exchange, Call J, was between Charlie and Magbanua. In this, a new set of codewords starts to emerge.

“You still haven’t heard from those people?” Magbanua asks Charlie, following that she had been looking into a “couple properties” about it. Charlie wants her to dig deeper and “find out, because usually when these properties come up, they announce it to everybody.”

This was an important exchange, highlighting Magbanua’s direct role in generating and using code words, plainly relating to the undercover agent’s phone number.

But during it, DeCoste was standing up at his desk, whispering first to Magbanua and then more loudly to his co-counsel, Tara Kawass. The jurors were visibly distracted by this display, which got worse when the attorney walked into the gallery to talk with a cameraman located next to the jury. His display of emotion may have led some to miss a few words his client said, but there was plenty more to follow.

Magbanua talked about throwing chum in the water to attract fish, perhaps referencing what a blackmailer or sting attempt would do, and then Charlie asked her, “Is someone shocked that listing came out?” probably referring to Garcia as the “someone.”

“Yeah,” Magbanua said. “I don’t want any false leads.”

“But you don’t think alarm bells went off everywhere?” Charlie asked.

“I don’t think so,” the defendant replied, before reiterating the “one of two scenarios” line.

“That property came with a full listing,” Charlie said, insinuating the “paperwork” his mother had been given.

It had “all the information,” Magbanua added.

“It came with everything but pictures,” Charlie agreed.

Magbanua volunteered, “Let me find out first regarding the property and then we’ll go from there.”

But Charlie was hesitant. “To be very honest with you, I’m not interested in buying that property,” he said, based on concern that it could become “a headache for life.”

“You don’t want to get stuck in a situation where it’s a false advertisement,” Magbanua said.

“It’s one of two things,” Charlie repeats, adding that if one gets the wrong people in there, “it becomes a problem for life.”

Magbanua concurred, adding that it would be bad if “someone keeps increasing the amount” — a strange concern if discussing actual property sales or tenants, given that buyers and renters tend not to raise their own costs.

Even as their coded metaphors were falling apart, Magbanua and Charlie continue down the path of discussing the bump as a property deal.

“It’s a false lead, or get the wrong tenant in there … let’s say they take a little vacation … and their little cousin while they’re on vacation, moves in,” Charlie suggests, “And next thing, his friend shows up, says guess who I am, I need this … it becomes … it’ll be a leech that never leaves you.” Charlie reminds Magbanua of a similar issue he had with “tenants” in Miramar that has been troubling since.

“Hopefully, that’s not the case,” Magbanua says to Charlie, “that’s why I do all the background checks.”

Cappleman didn’t ask Sanford to speculate about the code words, perhaps because Wheeler had previously ruled they could not hammer the jury about code — that would be the jury’s responsibility to determine. But she did ask him one question, shining light on what the Miramar references might mean: it’s where the FBI headquarters is located for handling all of South Florida.

More bumps to “tickle the line”

Cappleman and Sanford brought the jury back to April 25, 2016, with an exhibit showing a letter the FBI had sent to the Adelson residence — another “bump” typed in all caps, seemingly written by the same man who had approached Donna on the street. It read: “My phone is not ringing so you don’t care about tato and what he did for you. He knows he’s fucked and soon so will you”

Even with this more overt threat, Sanford said that no member of the Adelson family or Magbanua called the police to report it.

Call K and Call L were next. In these, Charlie and Magbanua discuss meeting at the Icon where his parents lived, but ultimately met further north. Charlie tells Magbanua he had been talking with his parents, and Magbanua mentions calling him on WhatsApp.

“We’re not able to obtain the WhatsApp calls,” Sanford says. Katie’s words, however, disprove a prior defense claim that Magbanua never used WhatsApp.

After meeting with Charlie that night, Magbanua texts Garcia, “need to talk to you about something else” to which he replies, “whatever is going on with you and your homie is your business u guys witk (sp) that shit out. Don’t text me.”

Call P was then placed from Magbanua to Charlie on 4/26 at 4:33 p.m.

In this, Magbanua tells Charlie she thinks she got the wrong number from him but does so once again heavily in code.

“I know you were like telling me something about for the client but I, like I got it mixed up with the number. I’m calling both numbers but nobody’s picking up, so I need to figure out, because, or else I could set up with the Realtor to show the property,” Magbanua said.

“I actually have the number at home,” Charlie says, but Magbanua wants it sooner.

“OK, but I kind of like, I need it stat,” Magbanua pleaded, “I’ve been calling so many people today.”

Charlie says he could get it to her two hours, saying he hoped “they haven’t looked at other properties yet” but then says he’ll see if he can get it sooner.

The hang up, and in Call Q, immediately thereafter, Charlie calls Donna.

“Do you remember the number that was written on the paper that day?” he asked.

“I don’t,” his mother said.

“Someone just called me asking for it. Because they thought they remembered it but evidently they remembered it wrong. So, I am gonna have to get it … I have the paper at my house … you didn’t write the number down anywhere?” Charlie pressed.

“No,” Donna said, “I gave you the paper and that was the end of it.”

“Properties” and “listings” and more

The “properties” code translated over to another conversation, this time between Garcia and Magbanua. In Call S, Magbanua says to Garcia, “remember one of the listings I had to tell you? For one of the properties …” and then reiterated the undercover’s number once again.

“So, the listing for the place,” Garcia followed, “I believe that was one of the ones that I tried.”

Cappleman asks Sanford about this call, and he attests that Magbanua accurately portrayed the undercover’s phone number.

The next day, in Call T, Charlie calls Donna. She relays that Harvey was “not having the best day” and Charlie assures her that “everything else is being taken care of.”

“They actually called the person,” Charlie tells her.

“Thank goodness,” says Donna.

“And nobody picked up,” Charlie said. “They tried a couple times. I would not worry at all.”

After that call, another bump or “tickling of the wire” happened. In this, the undercover called the Adelson Institute and left a message for Donna with Erika Johnson.

This time, he gave his name as “Sammy” and told Erika he had met Donna “last week” and given her paperwork. “She knows what it’s about,” the undercover said, and left his number. “Tell her it’s very important, I need to find out immediately what she thinks of the paperwork.”

In Call U that followed, Donna tells her Charlie that Erika relayed a message to her that someone had called for her, named Sammy, regarding important paperwork that he hadn’t heard back about. The two talk about the number again — reaffirming it was the same line Magbanua said they had called before.

“Let me tell you something,” Charlie said, with his usual smug confidence, “I’m looking into it right now … Let me call somebody and take care of it.”

Charlie then tries to call Magbanua, but she didn’t answer right away. He left a voicemail, published as Call V: “Hey, it’s me, it’s important, call me,” he said.

Cappleman asks Sanford if there were other attempts to reach the defendant, and he affirms about four were made. Magbanua finally calls back.

In Call W, on 4/28 at 10:43 a.m., Charlie says that someone had called his dad’s office talking about the “paperwork” and left a message with Erika with the undercover’s number. Magbanua asked what number they called from, and Charlie said he wasn’t sure — but that the person was named Sammy.

“Somebody’s like fucking pulling your bones and shit,” Magbanua said. The tone was getting heated.

“They called three times,” Charlie shot back. “Nobody’s pulling the leg. I’m asking you to find out who the fuck it is.”

“This is like a fucking bullshit game,” Magbanua said.

“They’re not coming out on foot, they’re not writing letters, and they’re not calling the office because they have nothing better to do,” Charlie insisted.

Magbanua says she had called the number herself, which Sanford attests never happened.

At this point, Charlie’s voice shows actual strain. “They fucking called this morning,” he says, frustration palpable. “Find out who the fuck it is. Because the next call is the FBI. And when they do find the person, they’re going to be asking a lot of questions about who Katie is.”

“I’m going to handle it my motherfucking self,” Magbanua says. “This is fucking bullshit. I’m about to go to the fucking FBI.”

Sanford again confirms, Magbanua never did that.

The call continued. Charlie and Magbanua became increasingly angry.

“This person evidently knows you and knows your family. They know me, and they know my family. Someone’s messing with you, they’re messing with me. Someone’s messing with me, they’re messing with you. It’s one and the same,” Charlie yelled. “So, what I’m saying is, find out who the fuck it is.”

This was the tensest exchange heard yet, and jurors were keyed in. As Cappleman questioned Sanford about it afterward, juror heads were turning like a crowd watching a tennis match as the two exchanged questions and responses.

This was followed by the airing of a relative calm Call X.

“Hey,” said Charlie to Magbanua. “I’m going to hit *67 and see who it is,” he tells her. Followed by a question: “You haven’t heard anything from this nonsense?”

“No, obviously, we’re on the same page,” Magbanua says. Then Adelson calls the undercover, which was played for the jury.

“Someone by the name of Sammy called,” Charlie said to him.

“That’s me, man,” said the undercover. “What’s going on is my brother Tato is not being taken care of. His family isn’t being taken care of.” The undercover continues, saying multiple times how he knows that “Katie and Tuto” have been “taken care of since the family problem was taken care of up north” and told Charlie, “this isn’t going away, my friend. I was at Broward with Tato, and he told me the whole story. No more fucking around … That’s my brother, and he needs to be taken care of.”

“Who is the first person Charlie Adelson calls after making contact with this undercover agent?” Cappleman asked Sanford.

“He talks to Katie,” Sanford replied that after multiple attempts to reach her, Magbanua called Charlie back about an hour later.

In Call Y, Charlie told Magbanua about his exchange with “Sammy.” With a fair amount of elaboration, Charlie relayed their conversation. Charlie shared that he didn’t think Sammy sounded like a “tough guy” when he first answered but that a “tough guy routine” came out as they spoke.

Magbanua wanted clarification on whether Sammy referred to a “friend” from Broward or a “brother” from Broward, and about details regarding the incarceration. “He didn’t sound Latin,” Charlie tells her, “There was a little New York accent. He’s coming up with a lot of fucking details.”

Magbanua asked Charlie for a “quick recap” and Charlie reiterates the whole exchange. Magbanua finds it interesting that Sammy used the phrase “in reference to” and that it suggests he’s educated, and Charlie reiterated that the man was very “polite” even in his interaction with Donna.

Cappleman, pointing out that Charlie said he didn’t know who “Tuto” was, asked Sanford: “Does Magbanua enlighten Charlie about who Tuto is?”

“Objection,” DeCoste said, as he did for so many questions of this witness, “Burden shifting.”

“Overruled,” said Wheeler.

“No,” answered Sanford.

After, Cappleman played Call AA between Magbanua and Garcia. “I have more information for you,” she tells him, “So this person … supposedly said his name is Simon” and relays to Garcia how Charlie had spoken with the undercover but did so without ever saying Charlie’s name.

He’s “a brother of this other person that’s supposedly incarcerated, and they know him from Broward,” Magbanua continued. “It’s getting too detailed. It’s somebody he (who?) knows. For sure.”

And then they talk about the undercover’s number. Again.

Cappleman asked Sanford, “Does the defendant say the name Charlie or Charlie Adelson to Garcia?”

“No,” said Sanford.

“She calls him “that person”?” Cappleman asked.

“Yes,” said Sanford.

Call CC followed, with Magbanua and Garcia talking again. He shouts the undercover number at her, and Magbanua affirms it. Garcia says he called and got a voicemail recording that sounded both “New York” and “Puerto Rican” that said, “Puto. I’m busy.”

“That’s odd,” Garcia says.

“Very,” Magbanua agrees.

According to Sanford, Garcia did in fact call the number, and got that voicemail. Garcia did not leave a message. Cappleman followed, “In the next call, that we’re about to hear, the defendant tells Charlie Adelson that she called the number” rather than admitting that Garcia had been the one to do so. Sanford agreed that at no point in Call DD or others did Magbanua say Garcia’s name to Charlie.

In that call, Charlie gets upset. He goes on a rant to Magbanua, suggesting that maybe someone in his family owes someone money and that he wants to get to the bottom of it.

“If it was my brother who was behind this, I’m going to fucking find out. I’ll turn him in for the reward money. My brother’s a piece of shit.”

Charlie was referring to his older brother, Robert Adelson, who is a sympathetic outlier from the other four members of his nuclear family. In her testimony last week, Wendi Adelson acknowledged she has “no relationship” with her brother Robert, and those watching the case closely can see evidence of why. Robert participated in the Over My Dead Body podcast, sharing details about growing up with the principals considered to be co-conspirators in the murder of his former brother-in-law, and has “liked” various posts on Justice for Dan regarding Charlie’s arrest and the Markel family’s extensive efforts to reunite with their grandsons, his two nephews. This wasn’t the first time Charlie was heard on wiretaps suggesting a desire to pin the murder on his innocent, upstanding brother.

In Call FF, Magbanua and Charlie talk again. They discuss the undercover’s voicemail, how it was in Spanish and used the slur “puto.”

“It’s, like, aggravating me,” Magbanua says to Charlie, pausing to scold her children or guests to be quiet, “don’t talk to me while I’m talking on the phone.” DeCoste stood up during that part of the exchange, perhaps again hoping to distract jurors from his client’s less likable moments.

Call GG was next. It was a strong call for the state to end on.

Magbanua begins, “I have a lot of shit to tell you,” she says, “It’s someone that’s desperate. Not from the inside because there’s so much on the inside that the other person knows from the outside … That’s why I know for a fact it’s not from the inside. It’s somebody trying to be greedy. Probably, you know, hey everybody knew — everybody knew who I’ve dated in the past and stuff.”

Charlie’s reply was interesting: “It’s somebody not from the first layer but probably the second layer,” he said.

“Yeah, and they just made a big mistake,” Magbanua continued. “I’m hoping I’m on the right lead …” before lamenting, “But you know, people crack.”

“Things always come out,” Charlie agreed. “And somebody is going to be fucking someone, they’re going to be running their mouth.”

Cappleman asked Sanford a few more questions about Magbanua’s arrest — how they found her and detained her, and then sat down for DeCoste to begin what he had already promised to be a lengthy cross.

Cross-examination of Sanford, as much innuendo as inquiry

“All right let’s do this,” DeCoste began. “You’re law enforcement, you work for the FBI, correct? You would agree with me your job is to objectively investigate.”

“Yes,” Sanford replied, “Exculpable and inculpable.”

It is difficult to capture the dynamic between this Miami defense attorney and the unflappable, veteran FBI agent. DeCoste’s questions were equal parts innuendo and inquiry, and Sanford’s answers deftly addressed both.

DeCoste tried multiple ways to get Sanford to admit that his investigations were biased toward incriminating Magbanua or had failed to look at all possible angles. DeCoste pressed why the agent hadn’t conducted interviews with more people, and suggested Sanford had let too much go.

“Is that written on a plaque in Quantico — can’t figure it out, won’t look at it?” DeCoste said, quickly chided by Wheeler for being argumentative.

But Sanford didn’t cave. Instead, the Special Agent explained, his team “scrubbed all the numbers through all of the intelligence agencies in the nation” and “did everything we could to find out if there were other phones out there, they could have been talking on. We tried every which way,” Sanford said.

“You’re saying the investigation was limited to cellphones,” DeCoste directed.

“I wouldn’t say that” Sanford replied, following that they had looked at bank records, social media, witnesses, and more.

“You deny subjectively investigating this case?” DeCoste asked, again with confusing syntax. Sanford asked for clarification, although his eyes showed he knew what was meant. DeCoste came back, “You maintain you subjectively investigated for guilt or innocence.”

“That’s true, I was not personally motivated,” Sanford said.

“But you wanted her to cooperate,” DeCoste charged, speaking of Magbanua.

“I wanted everyone to cooperate and tell the truth,” Sanford replied.

“His (Luis Rivera’s) words resulted in Katie’s arrest,” DeCoste pressed, trying to elicit agreement for sentence fragments that he could later use against the agent.

Sanford was prepared. “That and other things,” he said.

DeCoste pushed Sanford for another hour and counting, looking to impeach him and multiple other witnesses through this testimony. DeCoste reminded the jury about memory lapses that Rivera had about their trips to Tallahassee, as well as other fairly benign issues that may have introduced confusion to the jury. For example, DeCoste questioned whether investigators had attained evidence of Rivera’s Instagram post while in town.

Particularly strident was DeCoste’s pressing Sanford on why his team didn’t record all the proffers with Rivera. DeCoste claimed that “you know of no other inmates that were not recorded” but Sanford disagreed, and it turns out Sanford was right. Another inmate had provided an unrecorded statement as well. And beyond that, Sanford maintained, there was no agency requirement to have such proffers recorded.

Sanford did concede done error in their process. It had “slipped their mind” to make a photocopy of the flyer used in the bump. But when pushed by DeCoste to speculate that the flyer they showed the jury was missing some added content, Sanford was certain in his reply: “I can very strongly say there was nothing else written on there,” Sanford said. “I saw it when he (the undercover) walked out with it.”

Also, about the bump, DeCoste revisited an argument he made to other witnesses, taking issue that when the undercover approached Donna, he had “named names.” Sanford maintained that this strategy was well-reasoned, based on the intelligence they had, and the desire for the Adelson family to take the encounter seriously.

“You’d agree with me,” DeCoste said about so many things, almost all of which Sanford did not, in fact, agree with. Sanford maintained his composure, and even gained a bit of sass, allowing his face to communicate what appeared almost like amusement at the defense attorney’s attempt to shake him.

DeCoste suggested that Charlie was “using Katie as a pawn” even going so far as to present this odd scenario: To DeCoste, Charlie asked Magbanua to pick drugs up at his house, a test to see if his line was tapped. If she picked up the drugs and got pulled over afterward, this would have given Charlie a clue he was bugged.

“I don’t think so,” Sanford said, smiling. “A police department or the FBI investigating a murder would not stop someone for picking up marijuana.”

So, the defense tried another odd route. “If Garcia is cooperating, he can’t accept a gift from Charlie Adelson, right?” DeCoste asked. To Sanford’s confusion, DeCoste restated: “A cooperating witness with the FBI could not accept a gift from a target, could they?”

Sanford obliterated the defense with his response, “They could go pick it up and turn it over as evidence.”

The oddness of these scenarios, even if meant to introduce reasonable doubt, may have raised eyebrows in the exact direction the defense wanted to avoid.

DeCoste then tried to plant misinformation in front of the jury, claiming Magbanua was the only one who ever said she was thinking of calling the police. Sanford contested that, pointing to other calls when Charlie had said the same.

Regarding Magbanua’s phone, DeCoste wanted Sanford to confirm that the defendant never “ditched her phone” after getting a burner. Sanford agreed that the phone was not “ditched” but clarified that “she didn’t utilize it the way she used it before.”

And, about whether Magbanua had “fled” her home after Garcia’s arrest, DeCoste suggested to the jury that his client stay put and carried on with her life as usual. Sanford again challenged: “She left the house after we tried to interview her and never went back to that residence.” DeCoste said that Magbanua “never moved herself” and Sanford added, sure, that someone else did so for her.

Even when playing what he had hoped would be a disparaging video of Sanford interviewing a witness, where Sanford said he wanted Magbanua to cooperate, DeCoste bolstered the agent’s credibility.

DeCoste went for Sanford’s throat, but by the end of his cross-examination, the attorney had only cornered himself.

After the defense was done cornering itself, Cappleman revisited a few key points with Sanford, and then the state rested its case.

Tomorrow …

DeCoste and Kawass will begin calling their witnesses. It is unclear whether they intend to call Magbanua to the stand, or if Garcia — who has been transported to Tallahassee — will appear.


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.

Recordings of the wiretap:





























Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as 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. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


  • Friend of Danny

    May 25, 2022 at 11:22 pm

    Thank you for this excellent summary. Decoste’s cross examination if the unflappable agent Sanford reminds me of a proverb my grandfather used to recount in Yiddish: He who digs a grave for another often falls into it himself.

  • bruce e. smirnoff

    May 25, 2022 at 11:59 pm

    Thank you Peter.

Comments are closed.


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