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Colleagues remember slain law professor

Wrote death penalty blog before being shot

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Thirty-six hours before he was gunned down in his Tallahassee home, Canadian law professor Dan Markel was pondering the death penalty.

On that night, July 16, his thoughts drifted to the number of Death Row inmates whose sentences had been vacated in California. He posted an essay on the subject to his widely read legal blog before going to bed.

Around 11 a.m. July 18, Markel, 41, was shot in the head. He died the following day.

Investigators say Markel was targeted by his shooter. He was killed in his garage, according to a police report released Friday. Markel's black Honda Accord was being processed by the forensics unit, the keys still inside.

Police haven't said much more about the crime, which happened in a quiet, upscale neighbourhood known as Betton Hills. The mystery has rocked the legal community and spurred scores of blog posts and online tributes.

'It's not only gruesome, it's spooky'

"It's not only gruesome, it's spooky," said Doug Berman, a criminal law professor at Ohio State University whom Markel referenced in his final blog post. "He was someone who was constantly engaged with criminal justice ideas, and thinking about how to handle human tragedies in profound ways. His obviously criminal slaughter brings that all together."

A native of Toronto, Markel had an academic track record that opened doors. Harvard College, Phi Beta Kappa. The University of Cambridge. Harvard Law School. Editor of the Harvard Law Review.

After graduation, Markel landed a prestigious clerkship with a federal appellate judge and did some white-collar criminal-defense work for an elite firm in Washington.

He was hired as an assistant law professor at Florida State University before his 33rd birthday.

In Tallahassee, Markel's star ascended. He launched a legal blog, a forum for law professors called PrawfsBlawg. The site gave scholars an avenue to vet ideas and listed job opportunities at some firms and law schools.

PrawfsBlawg quickly attracted a national following, propelling Markel into a network of high-profile scholars. He was invited to conferences across the country.

"Dan was a connector," said Paul Horwitz, a University of Alabama law professor who participated in the blog. "He made many friends and maintained an astounding number of friendships. In person and on his blog, he introduced many people to each other and created whole new communities."

But Markel also had critics, including some conservative bloggers and law-school skeptics who complained PrawfsBlawg failed to challenge the legal establishment.

In 2012, Markel was the subject of an anonymous comment on the blog Inside the Law School Scam.

"Bullies like this need to be made radioactive," the writer said, alleging Markel had deleted anonymous comments on PrawfsBlawg. "Their arrogance and imperiousness speaks for itself. All means necessary must be employed."

A Florida State spokeswoman declined to say whether Markel had reported the incident to the university or had raised concerns about his safety.

On campus, Markel was known as a perfectionist whose high-level thinking could be difficult to understand. He could be acerbic and had a reputation for chastising students who answered questions incorrectly or failed to pay attention in class.

"If you didn't do the reading, he was going to call you out on it," said Ryan Wechsler, who graduated from law school in 2014.

But Wechsler said Markel was also the professor who reached out to him about job opportunities and invited his students to his house for home-cooked salmon dinners.

Markel also was devoted to his two sons: Benjamin, born in 2009; and Lincoln, born in 2010. They called him "Abba," the Hebrew word for father.

His world changed dramatically when his wife Wendi Adelson filed for divorce in September 2012.

She recently had been promoted to visiting clinical professor at the Florida State law school and published a novel about human trafficking. But her attorneys said she had become unhappy in the marriage.

Adelson did not return calls from the Herald. Her attorney, Jimmy Judkins, said she was "in shock" after Markel's death and left Tallahassee.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2014 A31

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