The three weeks that have passed since the murder of Florida law professor Dan Markel have done little to lift the shroud of mystery surrounding the case.
A brilliant legal mind deeply immersed in the life of his local Jewish community in Tallahassee, Markel is still being mourned by friends and colleagues who already miss his unapologetic, intellectual wit. Those who knew him said it made every conversation with the 41-year-old into a cerebral challenge.
“Dan was clearly an intellectual, serious guy,” said Paul Horwitz, a law professor at The University of Alabama School of Law who contributed to PrawfsBlawg, a legal affairs blog that Markel co-founded. “We all, for his sake and for ours, would appreciate closure and justice, but we don’t want his death to overshadow his life.”
The sense of loss shared by Markel’s friends, who have held memorials for him in Tallahassee, Boston, Washington, Los Angeles and his hometown of Toronto, is compounded by the lack of any significant leads that could shed light on the circumstances of his July 18 murder outside his home in an affluent neighborhood of Florida’s state capital.
Observers have raised a multiplicity of hypotheses and possibilities, including one with a particularly Jewish twist: Among his many professional activities, Markel provided legal assistance to a New Jersey Orthodox rabbi accused of kidnapping and beating Jewish men who were divorced under civil law but who refused to grant their wives a get, or Jewish religious divorce. The rabbis allegedly sought to force them to do so. A lawyer for one of the rabbis told WCTV that Markel was hired as an “expert on conspiracy law” and that the rabbi’s case had no connection to Markel’s murder.
Markel was gunned down as he drove into his driveway while talking on his cell phone. A neighbor rushed to the car and called 911, reporting that Markel was seriously injured but still seemed to be moving in the car.
“He’s still alive, he’s still moving,” the anonymous caller cried out, according to the 911 call transcript. Help, however, was late to come. The 911 dispatcher on duty erroneously categorized the case as a low-priority incident, resulting in a late arrival of the emergency crews. Nineteen minutes passed before an ambulance reached Markel who later died at the hospital. Florida police authorities acknowledged the dispatcher’s mistake, and local newspapers have reported that the belated response could have meant the difference between life and death for Markel.
Born in Toronto and raised in a family active in Conservative Judaism, Markel moved to the United States and studied for his undergraduate degree at Harvard College and later at the prestigious university’s law school. In 2005 he moved to Tallahassee, where he began to teach at Florida State University’s College of Law. Markel’s field of expertise was the theory of punishment, but he was better known for PrawfsBlawg, the blog he co-founded in which law professors share their thoughts and experience as academics and teachers.
It is this picture-perfect life story that has left so many people puzzled by his death.
Initially the police assumed Markel was a random victim of a burglary attempt. But investigators quickly ruled out this scenario. Within days of Markel’s murder, Tallahassee police chief Michael DeLeo announced that Markel was an “intended victim,” meaning that his killer was targeting him specifically.
“My investigators will do everything they can to see [that] those responsible for this murder are brought to justice,” DeLeo promised, but weeks of investigation have yet to turn up any significant clues.