TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — One ongoing mystery in a three-year-old Florida murder-for-hire case will not be solved, at least for now: who is paying the attorneys representing one of the suspects?

A circuit judge on Friday ruled that Katherine Magbanua doesn’t have to publicly disclose “the third party” who has taken care of her legal bills since she was arrested last October.

Authorities have alleged that Magbanua, who is from Miami, played a pivotal role in the murder of Daniel Markel, a Florida State University law professor. Markel, a law scholar born in Toronto, was gunned down in his garage in the middle of the day in July 2014 in a crime that police contend was sparked by a bitter divorce and family squabbles.

Police have said Magbanua helped orchestrate the killing and that she has ties to both the shooter and the family of Wendi Adelson, who was Markel’s ex-wife. Prosecutors demanded to know who was paying her legal bills, speculating that it was someone from the Adelson family.

But that effort was short-circuited after Judge James Hankinson held a closed door hearing where Magbanua’s attorneys disclosed to the judge who was paying them. Magbanua’s attorneys also stated in open court that the Adelson family – which has said it had nothing to do with the crime – was not paying them. A prosecutor told the judge she did not have any direct evidence showing the Adelsons were paying the two attorneys.

“Thankfully today we had a judge who agreed that they are not allowed to stick their nose in where it does not belong,” said attorney Christopher DeCoste.

Markel’s execution-styled shooting in his garage remained unsolved for nearly two years until police – with help from the FBI – finally made an arrest. Sigfredo Garcia, who has had two children with Magbanua, was charged in May 2016, followed shortly by the arrest of Luis Rivera, who was already in a federal prison serving a racketeering sentence for his role as a member of the Latin Kings gang.

Rivera late last year pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and agreed to testify against Magbanua.

Magbanua at one time had a romantic relationship with Charles Adelson, the brother of Wendi Adelson and whose family runs a successful dental practice in Broward County. Wendi Adelson and Markel divorced in 2013, but before it was finalized, the two fought over Wendi Adelson’s push to move her two small children from Tallahassee to South Florida to be closer to her family, court records show.

At the time of Markel’s death, the two were battling over money. Markel also complained that his mother-in-law, Donna Adelson, was disparaging him. He wanted the court to prohibit her from having unsupervised visits with his children, who were living with him.

Prosecutors have said previously there is not enough evidence to charge anyone from the Adelson family. The Adelsons have steadfastly proclaimed their innocence.

Both Magbanua and Garcia are scheduled to go on trial in January. Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman said Friday she may seek to have the two be placed on trial together.

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GARY FINEOUT
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