In July of 2014, a young Jewish law professor named Dan Markel was pulling into the driveway of his brick house on Trescott Drive in Tallahassee, Florida, when someone pointed a gun through the window of his Honda Accord and shot him in the head.
Markel died within hours, leaving behind two young sons, a vast network of friends, a promising academic career and a mystery that only now, two years later, is beginning to unravel.
In late May, Tallahassee police arrested Sigfredo Garcia, a 34-year-old with a long history of run-ins with the law. Garcia was charged with first-degree murder. His attorney maintains he is innocent.
So far, the arrest of Garcia has only raised new questions, and rocketed the grisly mystery back onto the front pages. How the lives of Markel and Garcia allegedly intersected that July day is far from clear. In a press conference shortly after the arrest, local police said that the investigation was still ongoing, and that court documents in the case had been sealed. The Tallahassee Democrat reported that investigators suspect a murder for hire.
Now, Markel’s survivors are hoping that the progress on the case brings some answers after years of uncertainty.
“Dan’s death left a hole in the lives of all his friends,” said Michael Goldenpine, a longtime friend of Markel’s. “No resolution to his murder can replace what we’ve lost, but it is at least heartening to know that justice may be served when it seemed for a long time that would not be the case.”
Markel was a smart, intellectually combative writer and professor; a specialist in the criminal law subspecialty of punishment theory and a leading voice among legal bloggers. He boasted a tight network of friends across the legal and academic law worlds. “He was like a human Grand Central Station, bustling with extraordinary energy to bring people together, using his blog in a self-effacing way to connect people with books, jobs, ideas, each other,” wrote Roderick Hills, a professor at the New York University School of Law, at the time of Markel’s death.
Born in Toronto, Markel attended Harvard University as an undergraduate before studying at Cambridge and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and then receiving a law degree back at Harvard. At the time he was killed, he was a professor at the Florida State University College of Law. He was also a founder of PrawfsBlawg, a chatty academic blog covering legal issues.
In recent days, the current contributors at PrawfsBlawg have again been writing about Markel. In a May 26 post, PrawfsBlawg contributor Orly Lobel shared a speech she had made at a 2016 memorial ceremony held for Markel at Harvard. “Dan knew everybody and he wanted everyone he loved to know each other,” Lobel wrote. “We absorbed and internalized his sense of community and, with Dan as our leader, our glue, we connected.”
Lobel wrote that she and others were planning to continue a tradition of an academic law conference happy hour they called “MarkelFest” at an upcoming conference in early June.
Markel was battling with his ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, over the terms of their settlement agreement at the time of his murder. In a statement to the Tallahasee Democrat, Adelson welcomed Garcia’s arrest. “These past two years have been an extraordinarily difficult time for our family,” Adelson told the paper. “Although my children will always live with the tremendous loss of their father, my hope is that these new developments will finally bring some closure.”
Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at email@example.com or on Twitter, @joshnathankazis
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.