‘Shaking and Dehydrated’ Matriarch of Florida Dentist Family Is Suffering ‘Cruel and Inhumane’ Conditions in Jail, After Being Charged in Murder of Ex-Son-in-Law, Her Lawyer Says

In the wake of Donna Adelson’s shocking arrest at Miami’s airport, the authorities searched her luxury condo and seized two iPhones and an iPad belonging to her husband, Harvey, who has yet to be charged in the murder.

Courtroom feed
Donna Adelson appears in court after her arrest trying to board a flight to Vietnam via Dubai. Courtroom feed

After being charged in the contract killing of her former son-in-law, Donna Adelson currently sits behind bars at the Leon County Detention Facility at Tallahassee, Florida. Yet now her lawyer is arguing for the improvement of the grandmother’s “cruel” living conditions, which he says are “inhumane.”.

Adelson, 73, is the mother of Charlie Adelson – a successful 47-year-old dentist who’s been convicted in the murder-for-hire plot of Dan Markel. The connection between these two and Markel, a celebrated law professor, is Wendi Adelson – Markel’s ex-wife and Charlie’s sister. In the trial that led to Charlie’s guilty verdict, prosecutors said it was a nasty child custody battle that led to the death of the Harvard-educated professor. They alleged the Adelsons hired hitmen from the Latin Kings to kill Markel because he stood in the way of his sister moving with her and Markel’s children to Miami, where the Adelsons owned a thriving dental practice.

In addition, Markel, as part of his nasty custody battle with Wendi, had also requested a protective order that would require Adelson to be supervised when visiting her grandchildren.

Charlie’s conviction was the fourth guilty verdict in the 2014 killing of Markel who was shot dead as he sat in his car outside his modest home at Tallahassee. The two hitmen, Latin Kings boss Luis Rivera and his friend Sigfredo Garcia, were previously convicted in addition to Garcia’s common-law wife, Katie Magbanua, who, according to prosecutors, was dating Charlie and was thereby the link between the wealthy Adelson family and the infamous Latin Kings gang.

In the few days between his conviction and his mother’s arrest, Charlie reportedly spent a staggering 35-plus hours calling a phone number that belonged to Adelson. It’s unclear if Charlie was only talking to his mother or if other people were involved in the jailhouse calls, but transcripts from some of the conversations recorded Adelson “telling Charles Adelson that she is getting things in order, creating trusts, and making sure her grandchildren are taken care of” and talking about “plans for a suicide” as well as “plans to flee to a non-extradition country.” 

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Donna Adelson (left) has been charged with conspiring with her son Charlie (center) to order the contract killing of her ex-son-in-law, Professor Dan Markel (right). Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation/Courtroom Feed

These alleged plans led authorities to arrest Adelson, who’d long been in their sites but proven elusive, earlier than expected. She was arrested on November 13 on the same charges successfully brought against her son: first-degree murder, conspiracy, and solicitation. At the time of her arrest, she and her husband, renowned dentist Harvey Adelson, were at Miami International Airport attempting to board a flight to Vietnam via Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, two counties that do not have extradition treaties with the U.S. Just a day later, investigators showed up at Adelson and Mr. Adelson’s Miami condo with a search warrant that allowed them to seize at least three Apple devices from Mr. Adelson: a white iPhone, a dark gray iPhone, and an iPad. It’s unclear if prosecutors will eventually try to implicate Mr. Adelson and Wendi in Markel’s murder.

Fast forward to today, and Adelson’s attorney, Marissel Descalzo, says Adelson is being subjected to “cruel and inhumane conditions” at the Leon County jail. On Tuesday, Ms. Descalzo asked in a motion that her client be placed on house arrest or moved into the general population section of the jail from solitary confinement following an independent psychological evaluation.

Dan Markel and Wendy Adelson, married for six years, feuded until the end. File Photo.

Ms. Descalzo says Adelson’s harsh treatment started even before she was brought to her current jail cell. When she was initially brought to the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center at Miami, Adelson allegedly was given no access to clothes, cups, silverware, books, blankets, or toiletries. She also wasn’t able to contact her family until 96 hours later when she was moved to general population from her isolation unit after two psychological evaluations. Then, upon being transported from Miami to Tallahassee, an eight hour drive up the Florida peninsula, Ms. Descalzo says Adelson was unable to get the attention of the officers to ask for water or a restroom break.

“Approximately 4-5 hours into the trip, when the officers finally checked on her, Donna was shaking, dehydrated and unable to stand up or move,” Ms. Descalzo writes in the motion. “As a result, the officers had to call paramedics to a rest stop.”

Upon arriving at the Leon County Detention Facility, Adelson’s situation allegedly did not improve. She was initially placed in the infirmary before being moved to a small solitary unit that had “a toilet, a sink, a mattress on the floor and a dirty blanket.” Ms. Descalzo says her request for a book or Jewish Bible hasn’t been fulfilled and she’s “been forced to eat her food with her hands.”

Hitmen Sigfredo Garcia, the father of Katie Magbanua’s two children, and Luis Rivera, a high-ranking member of the Latin Kings. File Photo.

Ms. Descalzo also claims her client has been treated with “cruelty” by jail staff. A day after she arrived, Adelson “felt uncomfortable” when a mental health professional questioned her about any medicines she was taking, because she couldn’t see the person’s face. After Adelson “made her concerns known” about being unsure if the person was truly a healthcare employee, she was told she was “a fancy white lady who murdered her son and now thinks she has rights,” before “the official joked with the other guards about this outside Donna’s door.” Additionally, Ms. Descalzo’s motion states that jail staff has denied Adelson basic needs like her blood pressure medication and showers. She also allegedly hasn’t been able to call her lawyer and has only been able to contact her husband once.

“The jail has shown deliberate indifference to Donna’s medical needs,” the motion reads. “And letting her become weaker and weaker as she sits in her cell naked all day with nothing but a mattress on the floor.” 

Katie Magbanua, Charlie Adelsen’s ex-girlfriend, convicted of Dan Markel’s murder, testified against Mr. Adelsen. Courtroom feed. Courtroom Feed.

It’s unlikely Adelson will be granted pretrial release given the seriousness of the charges brought against her and her previous talks of fleeing and suicide. In response to the motion, the Leon County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, Angela Green-Sherrod, wrote in an email that the agency could not “discuss the specific details of the pending motion at this time” but added that “the Leon County Detention Facility takes the care, custody, and control of everyone in our facility very seriously.”


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