The investigation into the shocking and tragic murder of Professor Dan Markel continues, as we noted in Morning Docket. The police recently released additional details about the crime — but are withholding certain pieces of information, for strategic reasons.
How much progress has been made in the investigation, and what are the latest developments?
Last week, the Tallahassee Police Department released its report about the crime, as described by the Tallahassee Democrat:
Police have provided few details to the public, other than he was shot in the head at about 11 a.m. July 18. A heavily redacted incident report released Friday noted the specific location of the crime as Markel’s garage and said his black Honda Accord was processed by TPD’s forensics unit.
The report says a neighbor called police at 11:02 a.m. after hearing a loud bang or pop coming from Markel’s house and saw a white or silver Toyota Prius-type vehicle leaving the area. Investigators are seeking information on a similar looking car, which was captured by video surveillance at a nearby business.
Bob Jarvis, a Nova Southeastern University law professor, said there are numerous reasons police withhold crime details from the public, even when seeking tips. Prosecutors worry about affecting the jury pool, and police are always concerned with false confessions and copycat criminals, he said.
“It’s a way to test anybody who’s either making a confession, who’s trying to pin the blame on somebody else,” Jarvis said. “It’s a truth-telling test. You don’t want confusion. If there’s something unique about the killer or the killer’s M.O., you’d like to keep that under wraps.”
A report from ABC News contains chilling new details not included in the police report:
A Florida State University criminal law professor was pulling into his driveway and talking on his cell phone when he was fatally shot, ABC News has learned exclusively…. The killer was waiting for Markel outside his home in Tallahassee’s Betton Hills section, a source told ABC News, and followed Markel into the garage, shooting him in the side of the head through the window of his car. The bullet entered just beneath Markel’s jawline.
Markel was alive when cops arrived, with the keys in the ignition of his car, before being pronounced dead at the hospital hours later, police said. Markel was apparently on the phone at the time of the shooting, remarking to the person on the phone that someone was in the driveway, ABC News has learned.
So it seems that Markel briefly saw the person who shot him. In this video report, legal analyst Dan Abrams notes that any statement by Markel describing his attacker would be admissible, hearsay concerns notwithstanding, as a “dying declaration.” (Abrams also made a comment about the vehicle of interest — “A Prius isn’t a typical hit-man vehicle… [Was it] the person who wants to protect the environment and kill someone?” — that was not well received by the commenters over at Gawker.)
As for the identity of the person or persons behind Markel’s killing, the Tallahassee Democrat offered these observations from Ohio State University law professor Douglas Berman, a leading law blogger like Markel:
“Could this have been related to something that went wrong in the classroom or other professional interactions?” Berman wondered. “Did somebody, in a big, horrible way, take something that he wrote the wrong way?”
While rare, such incidents have occurred in Tallahassee. In 1976, FSU professor James Fisher was shot and killed by a disgruntled grad student. An FSU chemistry lecture hall was later named in Fisher’s memory. And in 1995, FSU law student Joann Plachy was convicted of hiring a hit man to kill a secretary who was going to reveal she had cheated on a law school exam.
As for other suspects related to Markel’s professional work, ABC News noted that he did receive threatening comments in 2012 from readers of his popular blog, PrawfsBlawg, and quoted a friend who wondered whether Markel’s writing and blogging could have played a role in the killing:
Reggie Garcia, a friend of Markel’s, wondered whether Markel’s blog and other law endeavors could have motivated the attack.
“Is it possible his scholarship and literature created some enemies? It’s as possible as any of the other scenarios,” Garcia said.
Markel left behind two young sons and an ex-wife, Wendi Jill Adelson, also an FSU professor. Their divorce was acrimonious, punctuated by dozens of court dockets, hearings and a protracted custody battle over their two boys. Markel described the day Adelson left him as his “Pearl Harbor,” friends told ABC News. Markel told friends that, without warning, Adelson had packed up the house and the children and left while he was away on a business trip.
Police spent hours questioning Adelson, and questioned many others who knew him well, but have named no suspects.
If you have any information that might assist law enforcement in solving this horrific crime, please call the Tallahassee Police Department’s tip line, 850-891-4462, which has so far received more than 50 calls from sources. The reward for information leading to an arrest, initially set at $1,000, has been raised to $3,000.
If you would like to make a donation to honor Dan’s memory, either to a fund for his two sons or to designated charities, please see this post for details. Thank you.
UPDATE (7/29/2014, 11:15 a.m.): First, on the issue of the Prius, several correspondents have pointed out to us that (1) a Prius would blend in as “the type of car frequently seen on that street” (according to someone who lives in the neighborhood), and (2) a Prius is an unusually quiet car (making it useful for a stealthy escape from the crime scene).
FSU Professor Was Talking on Cell Phone When Shooting Happened [ABC News via Gawker]
Tallahassee Police Release Report Related to Dan Markel Murder Investigation [WTXL]
Incident Report: Daniel E. Markel [Tallahassee Police Department]
Friends recall Dan Markel [Tallahassee Democrat]
Police release more details in FSU law professor’s slaying [CNN via Morning Docket]
Harvard-educated professor was ambushed and shot dead in his garage [Mail Online]
Dan Markel Slain in His Garage — Report Suggests He Knew Killer [Jewish Daily Forward]
Slaying of Harvard law grad is a seeming mystery [WCVB]