In the aftermath of a 2012 divorce filing that blindsided him, Florida State University law professor Dan Markel tried to stay amicable with his ex-wife, fellow law professor Wendi Adelson, and focus on their two young sons, his friends say.
“He was annoyed that her family was meddling — he thought — in the divorce,” colleague and law professor Fernando Tesón tells PEOPLE. “But I never sensed he was fearful.”
It turns out he may have had reason to be.
His ongoing conflicts with Adelson over child custody abruptly ended on July 18, 2014, when police answered a 911 call just after 11 a.m. to find him shot point-blank in the head.
Markel was found dead still sitting in his Honda Accord in the garage of his home in suburban Tallahassee, Florida, hours after dropping off his kids at day care.
Police said he was targeted. He died the following day.
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Questioned on the day Markel was fatally shot, Adelson “said someone may have done this for her benefit without her knowledge,” Tallahassee police detective Craig Isom testified at a court hearing in December.
“She made the statement that her brother had joked the previous summer about hiring a hit man, but instead decided to buy her a television,” Isom said.
Police pursued that theory — and, in a probable cause affidavit, eventually alleged the motive for Markel’s killing “stemmed from the desperate desire of the Adelson family to relocate Wendi and the children to South Florida.”
Prosecutors have charged three people in what they portray as Markel’s murder-for-hire. Sigfredo Garcia, 34, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. Luis Rivera, 33, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is cooperating with police.
Those men, arrested in the spring of 2016, led police to a third person, 32-year-old Katherine Magbanua, who was arrested in October. Magbanua has two children with Garcia and allegedly had a romantic relationship with Charlie.
Police claim she was the one who connected Charlie to the hit men. She has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder.
None of the Adelsons have been charged in Markel’s death, and attorneys for Wendi, Charlie and parents Donna and Harvey dismissed any hint of their involvement.
As the investigation continues, Markel’s friends are waiting to see where the case’s questions and answers may lead.
“I just want to have them confirmed,” law professor Douglas A. Berman tells PEOPLE, “so I can feel some comfort.”