Donna Adelson faces court over charges for helping son commit murder

One week after Donna Adelson was arrested as she attempted to board a flight to Vietnam with a one-way ticket, the wealthy Florida family matriarch appeared in court where she was indicted in the 2014 murder of her former son-in-law, Dan Markel.

The Miami Beach grandmother, 73, was handcuffed and wore a red jail jumpsuit when she appeared on a video Zoom link on Tuesday morning.

Circuit Judge Jason Jones ordered Ms Adelson to be held without bond on the murder charge and said she was not to have any contact with Dan Markel’s family, co-defendants, or witnesses.

When asked if she understood, Ms Adelson responded “yes, your honor.”

She was booked on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and solicitation to commit first-degree murder, according to Leon County Sheriff’s Office jail records. A new mugshot was also released.

Tuesday’s appearance was her first before the Leon County judge. She had previously appeared in bond court and waived extradition following her arrest at Miami International airport on 13 November as she attempted to board a flight to Vietnam with a layover in Dubai.

Donna Adelson (Leon County Jail)
Donna Adelson (Leon County Jail)

Leading up to the arrest, recorded jail phone calls with her recently convicted son Charlie Adelson revealed she was “getting things in order and that she was making sure her grandchildren would be taken care of.”

She talked about suicide on the call, according to an arrest affidavit, but then admitted her plans to flee to a non-extradition country. That country was Vietnam with a stop in Dubai. The two countries do not have an extradition treaty with the United States.

With a one-way ticket to Vietnam in hand, Donna and her husband Harvey Adelson arrived at the Miami International Airport – but were stopped by the authorities before they could leave.

Donna was taken into custody and now faces murder, conspiracy, and solicitation charges in the murder of her son-in-law Dan Markel, a 41-year-old Florida State University law professor who was shot and killed outside his Tallahassee home in 2014.

Prosecutors argue that the Adelsons conspired to get rid of Markel after a bitter custody dispute between Markel and his ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, Donna’s daughter.

Wendi, who has denied involvement with the murder and testified under immunity at several trials, has not been charged. Neither has her father, Harvey Adelson.

State Attorney Jack Campbell told the Tallahassee Democrat that the state did not have the evidence to arrest Harvey, but had enough to arrest Donna.

Her attempted flight overseas sped things up and pushed law enforcement “to make a decision quickly,” Mr Campbell said.

“That’s what forced our hand,” Mr Campbell said. “We started talking to some of our law enforcement partners about the complexities of trying to bring someone back from either Dubai or Vietnam. And that might be a very complicated and lengthy process. So that’s why we had to make a decision quickly.”

The charges are the same that her son Charlie Adelson, 47, was convicted of just last week. He faces a mandatory life term when sentenced next month.

Charlie Adelson is cross examined by Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman during his trial for the murder of Dan Markel
Charlie Adelson is cross examined by Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman during his trial for the murder of Dan Markel

The family matriarch had been on prosecutors’ radar for some time, according to Leon County State Attorney Jack Campbell, who told The Associated Press that while he believes his prosecutors already had enough evidence to convict Donna before Monday, her arrest had to be accelerated when investigators learned of her plans to leave the country.

Donna was the fourth person to be arrested – an update that marks the latest twist in the 2014 killing that was arranged by Charlie Adelson’s former girlfriend, Katie Magbanua, who hired her ex-husband Sigfredo “Tuto” Garcia and his friend Latin Kings leader Luis Rivera to carry out the murder.

Magbanua and Garcia are serving life sentences and Rivera is serving a 19-year sentence after pleading guilty to second-degree murder and testifying against the others.