How Police Tracked Down and Caught 2 Suspected Hit Men in FSU Professor Murder Case

Police tracked down the suspects with the Toyota Prius they rented.

ByABC News
September 14, 2016, 9:27 AM

— -- The last morning of Florida State University law professor Dan Markel’s life was a Friday.

He dropped off his two sons at school and then had a quick workout before heading back to his Tallahassee, Fla., home.

But while still in his car in the garage, Markel was shot twice in the head and left for dead. He died in a hospital about 15 hours later.

About a year before his death, Markel had finalized a divorce from Wendi Adelson, also an FSU law professor at the time. But the two remained locked in a bitter legal battle involving their property and their children.

Tallahassee police investigators immediately attempted to piece together what happened on the day of his murder. They quickly determined it was not a random act of violence and set out to find out who killed him and why.

Below is a timeline based on police information about how investigators say they were able to track down the two suspects, the alleged hit men that police say were enlisted to kill Dan Markel on July 18, 2014.

July 18, 2014: Morning

At 11 a.m., Dan Markel drove home after his workout at a gym about 15 minutes away. Markel was heading up the driveway when he got a call on his cellphone. He told the man on the phone that there was someone unfamiliar in his driveway.

The man then heard a muffled sound through the phone and never heard from Markel again. Markel was shot twice in the head just as he pulled his car into the garage of his Tallahassee home.

Markel’s next door neighbor later called 911 and told the operator: “His driver’s side window was shattered and he’s spattered and can’t answer. He’s inside the car, the car is running, and he’s got blood all over his head. He’s not responding to me.”

Markel was rushed to a local hospital. Tallahassee police officers located Markel’s ex-wife Wendi Adelson early that afternoon at a local restaurant, where she was having lunch with friends, and drove her to the police station without explaining the details of the shooting.

July 18, 2014: Early Afternoon

The videotape of Adelson's police interview opens with her sitting alone in a barren, white-walled room. When an investigator enters, she tells him a friend just called to tell her there had been a shooting on the block where Markel lived.

“That’s what this is about,” the officer tells her as she begins to break down in tears. “There was a shooting at your home, or your ex-husband’s home. [He] has been taken to the hospital. He’s not going to survive.”

“Oh, my God,” Adelson says, sobbing throughout. “What happened...I just don’t understand? How could this happen?”The interview went on for more than five hours. Adelson told police that she was in fear and worried that whoever shot Markel could be coming for her children next.

About 15 hours after he was shot, Markel was pronounced dead.

Police found no evidence of a break-in at Markel’s home and swiftly determined that the shooting was no random act and that someone wanted him dead.

July 21, 2014

While on the hunt for the suspected getaway car, investigators also dug into every aspect of Markel’s life for theories into who could have killed him and why.

During her interview, Adelson told police about Jeffrey Lacasse, who was a fellow FSU professor and had been dating Adelson for nine months at the time. She said Lacasse “didn’t like Danny because Danny hurt me.”

Two nights after questioning Adelson, police brought in Lacasse for questioning on July 21.

Police verified that Lacasse had been hundreds of miles away at the time of the murder, but over the course of three lengthly interviews, Lacasse gave police his theories about the crime.

Lacasse told police to not focus on Adelson but on her parents and her brother Charles in south Florida, who ran the family dentistry business.

“They hate Danny in a way. I have never seen this kind of obsession. I mean, their hobby is hating Danny,” Lacasse is heard telling police on video recorded during his interview. “I would just say, I would be investigating Charlie Adelson. I don't know if he did this, but if you are looking at someone, don't miss him.”

July 23, 2014

Police didn’t have much evidence to go on, but they did get a lead from the neighbor who called 911 and told them on the day of the shooting, he had seen a light-colored car that looked like a Toyota Prius back out of the driveway and head down the road after the shooting

On July 23, five days after Markel’s murder, investigators released a grainy surveillance photo of a light-colored Toyota Prius and called it a “vehicle of interest” in the homicide.

In their investigation, police found clear signs that Markel was stalked by two men in a Prius before the murder.

As news reports of the murder began to circulate in Tallahassee, a resident in an apartment complex called police saying that they had seen a “Prius-like” vehicle parked in a parking lot, and that two men got out of it and started walking down the nearby nature trail. Markel’s house is just a short walk from the nature trail.

PHOTO: Luis Rivera
Luis Rivera

July 2015

Police later obtained video shot from a city bus of what they believed was the same green Toyota Prius.

Although you can’t see the driver or read the license plate in the video, a toll transponder can be seen in the windshield of the Toyota Prius. Investigators said it was a strong sign that the killers weren’t from Tallahassee because there are few toll roads surrounding the city.

On the one-year anniversary of Markel’s murder, the Tallahassee Police Department released a new photo of the Toyota Prius that they believe was driven by whoever murdered Markel.

Based on the image of the toll transponder seen in the car, police then pulled the toll records for all of the Toyota Priuses heading into the Tallahassee area around the time of the murder.

The toll records led them to a car rental agency in Miami, Fla., that rented mostly hybrid cars. It turned out there were fewer than ten Toyota Priuses rented during this period of time in the state of Florida that could have been the same car.

The rental agreement for the car showed that it was rented by a man named Luis Rivera. Using the listed cellphone number, police were quickly able to confirm Rivera’s identity.

PHOTO: Sigfredo Garcia
Sigfredo Garcia

Police say Rivera is a leader in the notorious Latin Kings gang, which has an especially strong presence in Miami.A second telephone number was also written on the rental contract with the word “Brother” written beside the number. The listed cellphone tracks back to Sigfredo Garcia of North Miami. Garcia is a childhood friend of Rivera’s who also has a felony record and numerous run-ins with the law.

Using cellphone data and GPS info, police said they were able to trace the trail of Rivera and Garcia in that Prius, which the two men in the vicinity of Markel’s home at the time of the murder.

May 2016

Police announced first-degree murder charges against Rivera and Garcia in May 2016, for Markel's murder.

June 2016

Rivera and Garcia were indicted in June 2016 and are facing the death penalty, if convicted. Both have entered not guilty pleas. They are scheduled for separate trials later this year.

Court documents made public in June linked Garcia, one of the alleged hit men, to Wendi Adelson’s brother Charlie Adelson: his former girlfriend was also the mother of Garcia’s children.

The arrest affidavit for Rivera and Garcia alleges that Charlie Adelson “reportedly did not like Markel and did not get along with him.”

In a probable cause affidavit, police allege that Garcia and Rivera were “enlisted to commit this egregious act” and that police believe the motive for the killing “stemmed from the desperate desire of the Adelson family to relocate Wendi and the children to South Florida, along with the pending court hearing that might have impacted their access to the grandchildren.”

Prior to the 2013 divorce settlement, Markel had successfully fought Wendi Adelson's attempt to move with their two young sons to south Florida for a new job and to be closer to her family.

But prosecutors have thus far declined to charge anyone in the Adelson family in the murder of Dan Markel, and state prosecutor Georgia Cappleman said there's not enough evidence to do so. The investigation is on-going.

Lawyers for the Adelsons, in a joint statement issued earlier this month, stated that “none of the Adelsons – Wendi, her brother, Charlie, or their parents Donna and Harvey – had anything to do with Dan’s murder.”

"[Investigators] have spent the past two years reviewing every shred of evidence out there -- every phone record, financial record, text message, email, internet search, everything,” the statement says. “We understand why the government has put the Adelson family through this type of severe scrutiny. But nothing has turned up that supports this fanciful fiction that the Adelsons were involved.”