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Florida jury spares life of man who killed FSU law professor

The case had riveted Florida’s capital as sordid details began to emerge about a messy divorce, tensions with in-laws and child custody battles that culminated in a murder-for-hire plot.
Sigfredo Garcia leans back in his chair and whispers to his former longtime girlfriend Katherine Magbanua on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla., after Leon County jurors announced a guilty verdict against him in the murder trial of Dan Markel. [ALICIA DEVINE  |  AP]
Sigfredo Garcia leans back in his chair and whispers to his former longtime girlfriend Katherine Magbanua on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla., after Leon County jurors announced a guilty verdict against him in the murder trial of Dan Markel. [ALICIA DEVINE | AP]
Published Oct. 15
Updated Oct. 15

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.— A Florida jury took a half-hour Tuesday to spare the life of a man they convicted last week in the slaying of a Florida State University law professor who was gunned down in his garage.

Instead, a Leon County judge sentenced Sigfredo Garcia to spend the rest of his life in prison for his role in the killing of law professor Dan Markel five years ago.

The case had riveted Florida's capital as sordid details began to emerge about a messy divorce, tensions with in-laws and child custody battles that culminated in a murder-for-hire plot.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Garcia but said they were satisfied with the life sentence. Garcia's lawyers said he would appeal the conviction, insisting that another man had pulled the trigger.

RELATED: Jury convicts hitman in shooting of FSU professor, declares mistrial for girlfriend

Meanwhile, prosecutors vowed to move forward with retrying Garcia's former girlfriend, Katherine Magbanua. Last week, the same jury deadlocked on a verdict for Magbanua, who prosecutors also had accused of first-degree murder and being a lynchpin for the murder-for-hire scheme.

During a two-week trial, prosecutors said Magbanua enlisted Garcia, the father of her two children, to take part in a hit financed by Markel's in-laws.

Garcia then enlisted a childhood friend to help. Prosecutors said the two men drove from South Florida to Tallahassee to execute the plan, stalking Markel on July 18, 2014, as he went about his morning routine. After dropping off his children at daycare and stopping at the gym, Markel returned home, where he was shot to death as he sat in his car talking on his cellphone.

Garcia has maintained that the fatal shots were fired by another man, Luis Rivera, who is serving seven years in prison for second-degree murder after agreeing to testify against Garcia and Magbanua.

The three represent just half of the narrative presented by prosecutors during the high-profile trial, which attracted national attention last week.

From the beginning, Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman presented Garcia and Magbanua as the hired help in a sprawling conspiracy to kill Markel.

Cappleman asserted that Garcia and Magbanua, along with Rivera, were working on behalf of financiers who prosecutors said spent $100,000 to see Markel dead. Central to her case has been the role of the family of Markel's former wife, Wendi Adelson.

Adelson had told authorities that her brother Charlie had joked about hiring a hit man as a divorce present but had decided instead to buy her a television.

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. But a ruling on the matter was never made because of Markel's slaying.

No charges have been brought against any of the Adelsons, and Cappleman declined to speak specifically about any case that might develop. Family members have denied any role in the killing.

"I'd like to get to everyone who's involved," Cappleman said. "But I'm not desperate to have more cases to do."

In an interview outside the courtroom Tuesday, Saam Zangeneh, Garcia's attorney, said he had approached his client about cooperating with prosecutors but Garcia declined to do so.

The jury's relatively quick decision to spare Garcia's life came after Zangeneh appealed to their compassion in arguing that Garcia's lack of control over his own life — because of his rough upbringing, mental anguish and domineering from Magbanua — should be a key consideration in their deliberations.

When it returned, the jury said the prosecution did, in fact, prove some legal circumstances — such as premeditation — to support the death penalty but those considerations weren’t enough to end his life.

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