Canada

Jury finds man guilty of murdering Toronto-born law professor, deadlocked on 2nd defendant

A Florida jury on Thursday began deliberating the fates of a man and woman facing murder charges in the killing of a Florida State University law professor who was entangled in a messy divorce and bitter child custody battle when he was gunned down five years ago in his garage.

Dan Markel was gunned down in what Florida prosecutors say was murder-for-hire

Toronto-born law professor Dan Markel was gunned down in front of his Tallahassee, Fla., home on July 19, 2014. (Florida State University)

A jury found a Florida man guilty Friday of first-degree murder but deadlocked on a second defendant in the killing of a Florida State University law professor whose bitter divorce and contentious child custody battles served as a backdrop for the two-week courtroom drama.

Prosecutors welcomed the murder conviction against Sigfredo Garcia, but it wasn't clear immediately afterward if they would retry their case against Katherine Magbanua, who prosecutors said helped carry out the slaying of professor Dan Markel five years ago.

Some of Markel's family bowed their heads as the jury streamed back into the courtroom and delivered its verdicts. Markel, 41, was born in Toronto, where his funeral was held. His family still lives in the area. 

Some jurors appeared emotional as they watched Magbanua break down in tears as the jury handed down its guilty verdict against Garcia, the father of her two children, and asked for more time to decide her fate.

They returned not long after to report that they were deadlocked. All 12 jurors are required to agree on a verdict to convict a defendant.

Prosecutors asserted that Magbanua, Garcia and another man were hired to kill Markel. While the jury also found Garcia guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, it declined to convict Garcia on a solicitation charge.

The second man, Luis Rivera, is already serving seven years in prison for second-degree murder after reaching a plea deal to testify against Magbanua and Garcia, his childhood friend.

Markel's family react as the guilty verdict is read in a Tallahassee courtroom on Friday. Markel's family still lives in the Toronto area, where he was born. (Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat via AP)

A sentencing hearing on Garcia's murder conviction begins Monday at the Leon County Courthouse in Florida's capital, Tallahassee. He could face the death penalty.

"We have a penalty phase coming up early next week. They did find him not guilty of the solicitation, which means they didn't think he did it for money," said Garcia's attorney, Saam Zangeneh.

"The only thing I can think of is that they thought my client committed this murder out of his love for Magbanua," he said. "If he's not doing it for money, he's doing it for love."

After his verdict was read, Garcia was overheard by a Tallahassee Democrat reporter telling Magbanua, "I love you, Katie."

Spotlight on Markel's former in-laws

The verdicts handed down Friday muddle not only the case against Magbanua — if retried — but also any charges that could be brought against additional people of interest in the case, especially the financiers behind the murder-for-hire scheme prosecutions have alleged throughout the court proceedings.

While Magbanua took the stand in her own defence during the trial, Garcia declined.

His lawyers said they will consider their options

"If there's ever a time for Mr. Garcia to co-operate, it would be now, but that's obviously a decision he'll have to make," Zangeneh said in an interview later Friday.

Sigfredo Garcia is seen in the courtroom on Friday in Tallahassee. A jury found Garcia guilty of first-degree murder. (Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat via AP)

Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman made her theory clear during court proceedings — even after Garcia's verdicts were delivered — that the family of Markel's former wife, Wendi Adelson, had a role in his execution-style killing, even if no charges have been filed.

Prosecutors said Magbanua, who was romantically involved with Markel's former brother-in-law, Charlie Adelson, was the link between the hit men and Markel's in-laws.

Markel was shot twice in the head in the garage of his Tallahassee home while talking on the phone in his car — after dropping of his children at day care and spending time at the gym — on July 19, 2014.

A neighbour found Markel and saw a light-coloured Prius speeding away. The car was later traced to Rivera. Further investigation led authorities to Garcia and Magbanua.

Katherine Magbanua, right, listens to her attorney in court in Tallahassee on Friday. Prosecutors asserted that Magbanua, Garcia and another man were hired to kill Markel. (Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat via AP)

As their inquiry widened, authorities also began looking into the role of Markel's in-laws.

During the trial, prosecutors alleged that Rivera, Garcia and Magbanua were working on behalf of financiers who prosecutors say spent $100,000 US to see Markel dead.

During opening statements, Cappleman said Markel had sought to keep his mother-in-law, Donna Adelson, from having unsupervised visits with his children because she had spoken disparagingly about him.

Wendi Adelson had said her brother Charlie had joked about hiring a hit man as a divorce present, but had decided instead to buy her a television.

Markel and Wendi Adelson divorced in 2013, but before it was finalized court records show that the two fought over Adelson's push to move her two small children to South Florida to be closer to her family.

With files from CBC News