It’s not clear for how many years Charlie Adelson has been preparing this specific, bizarre story of his defense — whether from mid-2013 when his sister Wendi Adelson was told by courts she couldn’t relocate to Miami with her and Dan Markel’s children or from Oct. 31, 2013, when he first solicited Katherine Magbanua to find people who could kill Markel to solve this problem; or from July 18, 2014, when Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera carried out the act; or from April 19, 2016, when the FBI “bumped” Donna Adelson, alerting the family to the possibility that law enforcement had pieced together what they had done; or from April 21, 2022, when he was arrested.
But he’s been preparing for a very, very long time.
The defense theory is one that only a mind like Charlie’s could, or would, land on.
In this story, Katie approached Charlie on the night of Markel’s ambush. She told him that a person associated with her had committed the murder and would need money, or else another member of his family would be killed. That’s why, Charlie says, he gave Katie about $100,000 in moldy, stapled money and why he put Katie on the payroll at the Adelson Institute even though she did no legitimate work there. In other words, to the defense, Charlie knew from Day One who committed the murder but kept his mouth shut out of fear of blackmailers.
Defense attorney Dan Rashbaum led his client to the stand and allowed him to raise his right and swear to tell the truth. They got right into it:
“Did you cause the death of Professor Dan Markel,” Rashbaum asked.
“Absolutely, no,” Charlie answered.
“Did you hire anyone to kill him?”
Rashbaum asked Charlie how he felt — “nervous” — and then asked why.
“My whole life depends on it,” Charlie said, telling the truth on at least that point.
Then Rashbaum led Charlie back in time to tell the jury his life story — a “normal” upper-middle-class childhood, where he wasn’t close with his older brother Robert and only became close to his younger sister Wendi when they were in high school. They talked about his education — UCF for undergrad and Nova Southeastern for dental school — where he said he had to work “really hard” to get good grades.
Police reports suggest he didn’t always succeed in this: in some, it was suggested that when Charlie’s grades fell, or he was caught cheating, Charlie used family and political connections — such as through Wendi’s godfather, then chief judge in Broward County — to pull strings. According to other accounts, members of his periodontal class refused to walk at graduation if Charlie was allowed to attend.
After dental school, Charlie began moonlighting as an itinerant dentist, traveling between various practices, quickly increasing his wealth. He admitted that he preferred to keep his money in cash, and when he’d get to $1,000, he’d staple a stack together — to save, not to spend.
“Let’s talk about your sister Wendi,” Rashbaum said before asking about Charlie’s feelings about her relationship with Markel.
“What did you think of him?” Rashbaum asked, to which Charlie said things were fine between him and Markel and that Markel was pretty much like any other of his sister’s boyfriends, with whom Charlie felt he had little in common. And when Wendi decided she wanted out of the marriage, she told her brother.
“I took my sister out to dinner when she’d come to town, we went to the Melting Pot, and she told me they were having issues, and it was pretty serious,” Charlie told of how he learned Wendi was unhappy with Markel. Their issues, Charlie said, centered on Dan becoming more religious, and that Wendi felt Dan wasn’t respectful of her career, and that she felt belittled. To Charlie, Wendi didn’t seem angry but rather sad.
Charlie would hear stories about the divorce proceedings as they went on, often from their mother, Donna. During that time, Wendi was stressed, and Donna was “upset because my sister was stressed. My sister would vent to my mom, and my mom would vent to me,” he said.
On the big relocation issue, Rashbaum asked why Wendi wanted to leave Tallahassee. Charlie said Wendi wanted to be closer to her family and have a better, more secure job offer. Charlie said he would have been happy to have her back home, but to their parents, it was “very important.”
When the petition to relocate was denied, Charlie said his parents were upset but that Wendi “wasn’t that disappointed.” Charlie wasn’t angry — “it didn’t change anything in my life.”
“We’ve seen some pretty out-there emails from your mom,” Rashbaum said, and Charlie said he was familiar with the ideas his mother had floated — but that none of those ideas were his.
“He’s being a jerk to you, so be a jerk back,” Charlie said, explaining why he sent approving responses to his mother regarding some of these ideas, such as dressing the boys in Hitler Youth costumes or converting them to Catholicism. Regarding the $1 million offer to Markel, Charlie said he had been willing to help by paying one-third of it.
“Did you ever talk with Katherine Magbanua about that million-dollar offer?” Rashbaum asked. Charlie said yes, he had — just the same way he had told everyone else. In Charlie’s recollection, Katie balked hearing this, asking if he would have to take out a loan to pay for such a thing — to which Charlie said he had plenty of cash. Indeed, he had used some of this cash to help Wendi with moving costs when she first separated from Markel.
Rashbaum then asked about the TV he had purchased for Wendi as a divorce present and then asked about the joke Charlie repeated multiple times — that this gift was “cheaper than hiring a hit man.”
“Stupidest thing I ever said in my life,” Charlie replied before telling his attorney he had never actually looked into hiring a hit man.
He said that he told this joke to multiple people, including Katie, and that he shared details about Wendi’s litigious divorce with his friends and girlfriends. “I talked a lot,” Charlie said in response to Rashbaum asking why he did this. “I’d relay stories.”
Rashbaum asked about his relationship with Katie. He met her at a dental office that Charlie visited every three weeks or so. He pursued Katie, describing her as “really cute,” “really smart,” and “witty.” He says he considered Katie his girlfriend and that there was a period when they were exclusive. He says he only met Katie’s two children once or twice, that Katie and Wendi met twice, and that Katie met his parents multiple times.
Charlie admitted that Katie had never worked for the Adelson Institute. He then said that there was a time when Katie wanted to get more serious with him, but he didn’t want to. Charlie said that he didn’t know much about Sigfredo Garcia. But did come to believe that Garcia was a “crazy ex” who wanted Katie back.
Charlie’s recollection of his dinner with Katie, Wendi, and Jeffrey Lacasse is that the two women shared stories about their ex-husbands, and he shared his “bad joke” about the TV and hit man. Lacasse and Wendi returned to his house after dinner, and Charlie recalls it as a typical night. He never spoke with Lacasse again after that.
“Did you know anything about the first attempted murder of Professor Markel in early June?” Rashbaum asked Charlie, and Charlie said, “No.”
Rashbaum then asked Charlie about his father Harvey’s 70th birthday in July 2014 — and the secretive text exchange between Donna and Charlie a few months prior in March 2014. Wendi had testified last week that there was no big gift she could recall for her father that year, to which Cappleman had asked whether Dan’s murder was the gift. Just a day after the June murder attempt failed, Donna and Charlie texted again, with Charlie writing, “still working on dads b day present,” to which Donna replied, “I know you’ll come thru.”
Charlie says that these messages had nothing to do with murder whatsoever.
On the morning of the murder, Charlie says he spoke with Wendi about the TV repair and asked for some relationship advice about Katie.
“I was shocked,” Charlie said of how he felt when he heard from Donna that Markel was shot and that he wanted assurance that Wendi and the boys were all right. From there, he went back to work.
“I was pretty upset about what I’d just heard,” Charlie said. He called Katie on his drive home from work and told her what had happened. He also called his parents, who told him they were heading to Tallahassee. According to Katie, Donna and Harvey made a pit stop at Charlie’s house on their way out of town, delivering a brown bag with damp, moldy, stapled money.
Katie did go to Charlie’s house that night. Charlie says that Katie was more upset than he was — and asked Charlie to sit down.
“This is all my fault,” Charlie says that Katie began, “I spoke in too much detail about your family’s personal problems, your sister, and Dan Markel, and the million-dollar offer. My friend killed Dan. He wants to be paid a third of a million dollars.”
Charlie says he stood up and started cursing. He says he asked Katie, “Who is your friend that did this?” but she wouldn’t say who it was.
From there, Charlie says, Katie apologized, saying it was all her fault. Charlie said he told Katie that he “wouldn’t be part of paying for a murder,” but then Katie threatened that if Charlie didn’t pay in 48 hours, “they will kill you.”
Charlie says he pushed back, saying, “Katie, I feel like I am getting extorted,” and Katie got mad. Charlie says that Katie then claimed she was dragged into it the way he was and that she was simply trying to help him out, and warned, “If you go to the police, they’ll kill you” and “come after your family.”
Charlie says he told Katie she didn’t have a third of a million dollars, not even in his safe. He showed Katie a good amount of cash in there, but not that much. Katie counted about $130,000, took it, and put it in her purse.
“How can you get the rest?” Katie asked him. But Charlie said he wouldn’t bring it to his parents because they’d go to the police “in a second.”
So, Katie said instead that Charlie could pay her $3,000 monthly.
“Did you have any idea that she was part of the extortion?” Rashbaum asked Charlie, who said he didn’t know that. Katie promised she would protect Charlie from the extorters, and that payments of $3,000 a month would suffice.
From there, Charlie says, Katie left the house, and Charlie stayed in the rest of the day. He talked to his parents that morning and learned that Markel had died. He then called Wendi to see how she was doing.
“Did you think about going to the police?” Charlie was asked, but he said he was too worried about getting killed. He thought through the pros and cons and decided that if he went to the police, Katie’s friends would kill him. Charlie also worried about paying it off immediately, as it would give the bad guys more reason to kill him. That’s why he said he had to do so incrementally over time to ensure they’d have reason to keep him alive. Charlie says that he then installed cameras at his house and in his office and started sleeping with a gun by his bed.
Rashbaum asked whether Charlie had told anyone what happened after the so-called extortion, and Charlie said, “No,” that Katie had warned him he couldn’t talk to anyone. Charlie denied that he brought Wendi out for a “celebration” dinner two weeks after the murder. He said he saw Katie only once in August to give her $3,000 in cash. At that point, Katie asked Charlie a favor — she needed health insurance for her children and requested that instead of $3,000 in cash, she received $2,000 in cash plus $1,000 from the Adelson Institute each month.
“We didn’t do a murder; I just got extorted,” Charlie said, so he agreed to this arrangement. To do so, he called Donna and said he wanted Katie on the dental practice payroll for $1,000 a month. Charlie claims that Donna asked whether Katie would do any work for them, to which he told his mom that Katie would be helping him on the side with “some stuff.” Charlie says he then told Donna to write four or five checks at a time so he could hand them off to Katie without having to see her too often.
Charlie claims that Donna pushed him for the full story of why they were paying Katie $1,000 a month, and so he told her, saying that at least that way, “If I got killed, at least someone would know where to look.”
Charlie said he told Donna that he would tell her what happened but that he didn’t ever want to talk about it again and that she wasn’t allowed to speak to Harvey or Wendi as he feared they’d go to the police. Charlie claimed that Donna “freaked out.” Charlie then went on to acknowledge he had given many gifts to Katie outside of the “extortion,” which was intended to keep Katie happy.
Over time, Charlie said, he became more and more sure that Katie wasn’t part of the extortion — “She was broke,” he said, suggesting that she was uninvolved.
The relationship became “different but stronger,” Charlie claimed, saying he “needed her for his safety.”
“She was protecting me,” Charlie said he believed at the time. Charlie claims that Katie never told him who was “extorting” him but that he had a pretty good idea of who it was.
“Do you love your nephews?” Rashbaum asked Charlie, “Would you ever take their father away from them?”
“Never in a million years,” Charlie said.
After the defense elicited this display of emotion, they requested a break for lunch.
Florida Politics provides ongoing coverage of the Markel murder case, which is drawing international media attention to Florida’s capital city. Our reporting draws from sources including contributor Karen Cyphers of Sachs Media, who, with attorney Jason Solomon, advocates with the grassroots group “Justice for Dan” to draw attention to the case and provide analysis relevant to Florida’s political, advocacy and legal communities.