For nearly a decade, the sensational killing of a prominent Florida law professor in 2014 centered on a single, sordid question: Did his ex-wife’s family, motivated by an ugly custody dispute, hire hit men to murder him?
On Monday, a jury concluded that it did, and convicted Charles Adelson, the former brother-in-law of the slain professor, Dan Markel, of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and solicitation of murder. He faces a likely sentence of life in prison.
Mr. Adelson closed his eyes, mouthed “No” and put his head down when the verdict was read at the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee, Fla. The jury deliberated for a little more than three hours after eight days of testimony, including from Mr. Adelson himself, who took the rare step of testifying in his own defense.
Mr. Markel, 41, a well-known legal scholar at Florida State University, was shot on July 18, 2014, in his home in an upscale Tallahassee neighborhood. The police found him wounded, and he died 14 hours later at a hospital.
Mr. Adelson, a 47-year-old periodontist from Fort Lauderdale, is the fourth person convicted in Mr. Markel’s death, which has been dissected over the years in news articles, television shows and a podcast.
“It has been more than nine years since Danny was brutally murdered in cold blood, and it has taken a tremendous effort to get to this point,” his parents, Ruth Markel and Phil Markel, said in a statement after Monday’s verdict.
According to prosecutors, Mr. Adelson arranged and paid for two men, Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera, a former leader of the North Miami Latin Kings gang, to drive to Tallahassee from Miami and kill Mr. Markel so that his ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, could relocate to South Florida with the couple’s two young sons. A judge had denied her relocation petition after the divorce.
The murder was arranged, prosecutors said, through Katherine Magbanua, Mr. Adelson’s girlfriend at the time, who had two children with Mr. Garcia.
Mr. Rivera pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2016. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison and testified against Mr. Garcia, Ms. Magbanua and Mr. Adelson.
A jury convicted Mr. Garcia of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in 2019. He was sentenced to life in prison.
The same jury that convicted Mr. Garcia could not agree on whether to convict Ms. Magbanua. Prosecutors retried her case last year, after delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
She was found guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and solicitation of murder. Her sentence was life in prison, with two additional 30-year sentences to run consecutively with her life term.
Ms. Magbanua, who had insisted that she was not involved in the murder, flipped her story during Mr. Adelson’s trial and testified against him. Clad in a purple prison uniform, she said that he had directed her to get Mr. Garcia and Mr. Rivera to carry out the hit.
“Why tell the truth now?” the lead prosecutor, Georgia Cappleman, asked her.
“I believe that the truth needed to come out now so that the family can get some type of closure,” Ms. Magbanua said.
Daniel Rashbaum, Mr. Adelson’s defense lawyer, repeatedly called Ms. Magbanua a liar. “I lied in my trials to save myself,” she said.
Mr. Rashbaum did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Prosecutors consider Mr. Adelson’s family members — his sister Wendi Adelson and their parents, Donna Adelson and Harvey Adelson — unindicted co-conspirators. None have been charged and all have denied any involvement. Wendi Adelson has testified with limited immunity in all three trials held in the case.
Charles Adelson was arrested last year, nearly eight years after the killing.
In his telling, he was not conspiring to commit murder when he paid Ms. Magbanua about $100,000 and then hired her for a no-show job at the family’s dental practice for $3,000 a month. Instead, he testified, he was the victim of an extortion plot by Mr. Markel’s killers.
The unexpected defense, laid out by Mr. Rashbaum for the first time during the trial’s opening statements, went like this:
Mr. Adelson’s family was thinking of paying Mr. Markel $1 million to let Ms. Adelson and their sons leave Tallahassee. Mr. Garcia and Mr. Rivera learned of the plan, plotted to kill Mr. Markel and then, through Ms. Magbanua, threatened Mr. Adelson if he didn’t pay them off.
“She’s like, ‘Look, if you don’t pay in 48 hours, they will kill you,’” Mr. Adelson testified.
Mr. Adelson never reported the purported extortion to the police.
In 2016, the police tapped the cellphones of Mr. Adelson; his mother, Donna Adelson; Ms. Magbanua; and Mr. Garcia. An undercover F.B.I. agent posed as a member of the Latin Kings gang and asked Ms. Adelson for money to compensate the family of Mr. Rivera, who was in prison.
That prompted Mr. Adelson and Ms. Magbanua to meet at a restaurant, where an undercover agent recorded parts of their conversation. Mr. Adelson suggested the person posing as the blackmailer might be paid off or possibly killed, according to the recording.
And he raised the possibility that the blackmailer might be an undercover agent — though he said he was not worried about that.
“If they had any evidence,” he said, “we would have already gone to the airport.”