Defense says letters from jail could turn case around in slaying of FSU law professor

Posted at 10:46 AM, June 23, 2021 and last updated 4:29 PM, December 13, 2022

By: Jada Williams

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — There are new changes to the defense strategy for the woman accused of playing a role in Florida State Law professor Dan Markel’s death nearly seven years ago.

Attorney’s for Katherine Magbanua believe letters from jail could be key in a not guilty verdict this time around. Those letters come from another man awaiting his own double homicide trial.

Katherine Magbanua, charged in the 2014 murder of Florida State law professor Dan Markel, watches as one of her lawyers speaks with Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman Friday, Sept. 27, 2019.

Walter Rayborn will testify in court that one of the key witnesses for the prosecution in Magbanua’s first trial lied in order to get a plea deal.

“Mr. Rayborn reached out to me from jail and wrote me the letter that we’ve provided in discovery,” said Magbanua’s attorney Tara Kawass.

Kawass believes that letter will play a crucial role in getting her client a not guilty verdict in her next trial.

Magbanua is accused of orchestrating the murder of FSU law professor Dan Markel. In October of 2019, she had a joint trial with Sigfredo Garcia. Garcia is the father of her children. State prosecutors believe Magbanua was the go-between in Markel’s death. The state’s theory is the family of Markel’s ex-wife’s put a hit on the professor. State attorneys say Magbanua was dating Markel’s ex-brother-in-law and connected him with her ex-boyfriend, Garcia, and his friend, Luis Rivera, to kill Markel.

In a letter to Magbanua’s attorney, a fellow inmate says Rivera lied about Magbanua’s involvement in exchange for a plea deal he eventually took.

During Magbanua’s first trial, when asked who convinced Garcia to shoot Markel, Rivera replied, “His wife Katie.”

In one of the letters sent to Kawass from Rayborn, he claims the prosecution held up color-coded folders while Rivera testified to remind him what to say. The letter also reads “Rivera told me and other inmates countless times that Katie never truly was involved.”

“The evidence actually does support that because of the amount of times that they had met with Luis Rivera and didn’t cut a deal with him. Then in September right before Katherine’s arrest, all of a sudden, he met, mentioned Katherine’s name, he had figured out at that time that ‘if I don’t say her name they’re not going to put any deal with me,” said Kawass.

State Attorney Jack Campbell disagrees, calling Walter Rayborn a threat to society.

FILE – Dan Markel (Florida State University)

“The allegations are preposterous and they’re being made by a multi-murderer, neo-nazi, convicted felon,” said Campbell.

Walter Rayborn is accused of shooting two people and trying to burn down their apartment complex in order to hide the evidence. The seemingly random involvement has some questioning Rayborn’s motives.

“The interesting thing about Mr. Rayborn, what he is doing is actually goes against his best interest. We can’t offer him anything. We have no affiliation with his case. We have nothing to do with the charges that he’s facing.”

However, State Attorney Campbell believes Rayborn’s actions are intentional.

“Right now Mrs. Cappleman is an extremely good prosecutor seeking to have him incarcerated for the rest of his life and perhaps have him put to death,” said Campbell. “He’s trying to disparage the person prosecuting him for murder and seeking the death penalty.”

Campbell says this isn’t the first time he’s run into issues with Rayborn. In December of 2018, Campbell sent a letter to Sheriff Walt McNeil asking him to keep Rayborn in confinement until his trial.

The letters read in part, “It has come to the attention of my office that this inmate poses special security concerns to your staff and mine, as well as to witnesses in the community.”

Magbanua is set to go to trial on October 4, 2021. Nearly two years exactly from her first trial. Walter Rayborn’s trial hasn’t been scheduled yet.



This story was originally published June 22, 2021, by WTXL in Tallahassee.