Markel Trial Day 10 — Closing statements conclude, jury gets case
Katherine Magbanua looks over her shoulder towards the gallery to see who is in attendance in the courtroom in the trial for Dan Markel's 2014 murder.

magbanua, katherine
State offers clear, focused, retelling story of conspiracy

Prosecutor Georgia Cappleman stood before the seven men and seven women who were randomly called upon to fulfill their civic duty, looking focused and prepared as she began delivering closing arguments in a case she had worked on for years.

Cappleman advised the jury that amid the thousands of things they had heard over the past few weeks, their only job was to make a wise decision solely about the defendant in this case, Katherine Magbanua.

“Anybody else is for another day and another jury,” Cappleman said, referring to members of the Adelson family. But before moving on to recapping evidence of Magnanua’s involvement in Dan Markel’s murder, Cappleman noted a few key things about the victim’s ex-wife, her family, and their involvement in his killing.

“It was ultimately done for Wendi,” Cappleman said — something on which she and the defense agree. Cappleman cited how the Adelsons, specifically Wendi Adelson, Charlie Adelson, and Donna Adelson, had a “clever” TV code word and alibi, a “frame job for (Jeffrey) Lacasse,” and “Bulleit bourbon” on top of voluminous evidence of their motive to eliminate Markel — who had become inconvenient to Wendi in her desire to relocate to South Florida.

Cappleman noted the conspirators “walled off” from each other — with each person having “some limits to their knowledge.” She said this strategy was “smart” and “made this case much harder to break.”

“But don’t let the way they thought they would get away with this case be how they get away with this case,” Cappleman told the jury, providing some advice on weighing the accuracy of the testimony they were tasked to review.

“How do you judge the credibility of a bad dude, like Luis Rivera?” Cappleman posed to the jury, acknowledging that she didn’t hire the gang member to be a part of this case or to be a witness. Rather, the choice to involve Rivera was due to choices made by this defendant. Cappleman said: “She and her husband hired him to do this job,” and “Rivera is here because he was willing to cooperate … to tell the truth.”

She reminded the jury they should compare their perception of Rivera’s credibility against everything they heard. “Ask yourself if he was honest and straightforward,” Cappleman said, “and compare that to Katherine Magbanua’s testimony.”

Cappleman then moved on, timelining the case for the jury, relaying the overwhelming evidence of Magbanua’s role as a conduit of information between the other conspirators. She hammered Magbanua’s testimony, where she could barely recall a single fact on any substantive question and exposed significant inconsistencies between Magbanua’s 2019 testimony and what she delivered the previous day. “It’s like trying to nail jello to a wall,” Cappleman said.

It’s quite a task to condense the voluminous arsenal of facts presented by the State into a cohesive, concise argument. Cappleman was up to that — showing even how the defense theory is internally inconsistent, and her delivery was masterful. It’s worth watching firsthand to hear all of the details left out of this account, which is possible to do through the Tallahassee Democrat’s YouTube channel.

“There’s two Katie’s in this case,” Cappleman told the jury, “The Katie who was on the stand, and the Katie who was in Call W” — referring to one of Magbanua’s expletive-laden calls with Charlie where she comes “really close” to revealing the truth.

Cappleman ends by reminding the jury of a particularly indicting wiretap recording between Charlie and Magbanua, where the defendant tells Charlie her conclusion about who was shaking Donna down: it was “not from the inside,” Magbanua said, that it must be from the “outside” of their conspiracy.

“She didn’t just ask Sigfredo Garcia to do this and pay for it — that would be solicitation. She didn’t just take Charlie Adelson’s family problem and turn it into action — that would be conspiracy. She got the thing done — Dan Markel is dead — this is why there is a murder charge, not just conspiracy and solicitation.”

“Garcia was the bullet, Charlie was the finger wrapped around the trigger, and Katie was the gun,” Cappleman said. The analogy was piercing.

The murder “doesn’t work without her,” Cappleman said. “Without every piece, without every function, without every part of it, you don’t have the end result, and Dan Markel may still be alive.”

Cappleman continued, showing focus and passion, as she referred back to jury instructions provided early in the morning.

“Reasonable doubt is not a speculative doubt,” Cappleman said, reminding the jury that having a common auto mechanic is irrelevant to this case. Adding, “Regardless of how clueless this defendant acted on the stand … she was not the pawn. She was the stage director. She is guilty of everything she is charged with.”

Defense thanks jury, delivers impassioned, accusatorial close

“They failed Katherine at every single stage of this proceeding,” said Magbanua’s lawyer, Tara Kawass, speaking of how she believes the justice system treated her client, as she launched into a passionate closing statement.

Kawass then reiterated the defense’s only theory — that the State built a fake case to pin Magbanua in the middle of the conspiracy, accusing law enforcement of using multiple devious tactics, such as failing to investigate leads, ignoring exonerating evidence, and planting misinformation through corrupt witnesses.

Further, Kawass suggests to the jury that mistakes made by conspirators somehow prove their innocence. “He would never use his phone to orchestrate a murder,” Kawass said of Charlie, who witnesses described as “brilliant” and “manipulative.”

And yet, in the next breath, Kawass acknowledges that Charlie did just that — use his phone in the orchestration or cover-up of a murder.

Kawass didn’t stop with Charlie, though, when aiming the Adelsons. She spoke of how Donna was likely sitting in the comfort of her condo, perhaps watching the case on livestream — not incarcerated.

And, Kawass threw some extra special shade on Wendi.

“You can discredit every single thing that came out of Wendi Adelson’s mouth,” Kawass said, later remarking, “Wendi Adelson has the audacity to come in here and defend her family,” and then, “There’s more evidence against Wendi Adelson than there is against Katherine Magbanua.”

Kawass emphasized, with her passion level at the same high tenor straight through, that the State presented jurors with nothing substantive against her client and that what they did present was circumstantial at best.

“‘Consistent with’ is not ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’” Kawass said, speaking of cellphone data used to place Magbanua at certain places at key times such as the money drop or car rentals, then accusing the FBI of putting “blinders” on “while conducting this investigation.”

She angrily lamented that not all of Rivera’s interviews were recorded, ensuring that all he said was through the “filter of police.”

“Don’t let Ms. Cappleman get away with it,” Kawass said, chiding investigators for why they didn’t obtain a wiretap on Garcia’s phone even though he was a known conspirator, too.

And then, she turned to scold Cappleman’s co-counsel, Sarah Kathryn Dugan. Kawass accused Dugan of “masterful misinterpretation” in portraying what Charlie and Magbanua said at Dolce Vita, claiming “half of the things Ms. Dugan said are flat out incorrect or misleading.” She even accused Dugan of “bullying” Magbanua for asking the same question a few times — ironic, considering that describes the main tactic used by her co-counsel, Christopher DeCoste.

Dugan had conducted a cross-examination of Magbanua the day prior, during which she played multiple clips from the Dolce Vita meeting, giving jurors another chance to hear for themselves what was said.

“You cannot rely upon someone else’s interpretation of what is being said in a recording,” Kawass said in closing. And yet she asked jurors to do just that when repeating something Garcia said on the wiretap, telling Magbanua: “The less you know, the better.”

Kawass called it “offensive” — the “audacity of Ms. Cappleman” — that the State even called Rivera as a witness, calling him a liar, stating that the only thing in his testimony that was accurate was details of the shooting — how Markel was on the phone, with his window up. She inferred that these details were given to him by law enforcement.

“As prosecutors, they should not be trying to skew things for you,” Kawass said, saying the State had tailored evidence to fit their theory.

Kawass schooled the jury on the definition of reasonable doubt, saying it can be based on “the evidence itself, the lack of evidence, and conflicts in the evidence” and that the State’s “theory is littered with all three.”

She showed the jury a chart displaying how high the burden of proof must be and challenged Cappleman to come back up and, in her 10-minute rebuttal, show “one piece” of evidence that is “not Luis Rivera,” that constitutes “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” that Magbanua “knew.”

“That evidence does not exist because she is not guilty,” Kawass ended, pointing to Magbanua’s six years behind bars as evidence of her innocence.

“I beg of you,” Kawass said. “Justice for Dan Markel is not convicting an innocent person. In fact, that would be a travesty.”

Cappleman closes with heartfelt reminder

Cappleman’s rebuttal was to the point, showing grit and energy — directly confronting accusations the defense had just directed toward her, personally. Cappleman reminded the jury they could not use Magbanua’s refusal to cooperate as evidence of innocence and asked them to refuse the defense’s invitation to speculate.

“You were chosen because you have common sense and you know how to do that,” Cappleman said, before laying out the many things that must be accepted as coincidence to view Magbanua as innocent. “How many coincidences does it take for it to no longer be a coincidence?”

Cappleman acknowledged that the situation is sad for everyone and that sympathy may be felt toward Magbanua — but that it cannot be a factor in the verdict. She pointed jurors to Magbanua’s own words, things she clearly said to Charlie in multiple wiretaps, saying, “Her own words are the thing that hangs her worse than anything you all have seen.”

Finally, in a moment that left the room silent and in chills, Cappleman closed. “What Katherine Magbanua is going through is not the worst nightmare that anyone can imagine,” she said, holding up Dan Markel’s photo. “Her being compelled to answer for what she did in this case — for what she set into motion — that is not the worst nightmare that anyone can imagine. This (holding up Markel’s photo) is what this case is about. Find her guilty. Thank you.”

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of FloridaPolitics.com, 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.



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