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Florida woman charged with plotting former son-in-law’s death pleads not guilty after alleging ‘inhumane treatment’ in jail

By Denise Royal and Shirin Faqiri, CNN

(CNN) — The Florida woman charged with murder and other offenses in the 2014 fatal shooting of her former son-in-law pleaded not guilty Monday to the alleged murder-for-hire plot.

Donna Adelson was arraigned in court during a hearing that also addressed an emergency motion alleging she had been subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment” during her time in jail.

Adelson’s attorney, Marissel Descalzo, filed the emergency motion last week with multiple allegations, including accusations jail staff are forcing the 73-year-old to sit naked and eat with her hands while in a small cell by herself.

The jail staff is also accused of withholding medication from Adelson and making her go days without a shower.

The motion argued the alleged treatment is a violation of Adelson’s Sixth Amendment rights because she has been unable to communicate with her attorney or help with her defense.

Descalzo requested the court release Adelson on house arrest or force the jail to improve her conditions, release her from isolation and “place Donna in a unit where she can prepare for trial and speak to her family.” It also requests an additional alternative, asking the court to consider issuing Adelson a “psychological evaluation” to place her in a different unit.

A spokesperson for the Leon County Sheriff’s Office told the Tallahassee Democrat the Leon County Detention Facility takes the care, custody and control of everyone in its facility very seriously.

In the emergency hearing, Judge Stephen Everett didn’t directly address all the allegations but heard discussion about Adelson’s mental state and her being housed in isolation under direct observation due to suicidal remarks she allegedly made.

Everett cited a previous case in the decision to not intervene in her care, stating it would be “stepping on the separation of powers.”

“Until there has been an exhaustion of remedies with regard to whatever internal procedure is available for her to avail herself of regarding grievances, or other matters with the jail, an injunction is not something that I can entertain at this point,” Everett told the court. “The sheriff runs the jail, I run my courtroom.”

The judge did rule the jail must make accommodations for Adelson to meet with her lawyer privately to prepare for her case but that he cannot grant Adelson the right to see a third-party psychologist or psychiatrist.

Adelson was arrested November 13 as she and her husband tried to board a flight out of Miami International Airport to Vietnam. She was held at a Miami jail before she was transported to Leon County.

Adelson is charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy and solicitation in what prosecutors allege was a murder-for-hire killing of Florida State University law professor Dan Markel, her former son-in-law.

Her son, Charles Adelson, a South Florida dentist, was convicted of Markel’s murder a week before her arrest.

In the motion, Descalzo said the evidence against her client is “circumstantial at best,” adding, “There is a presumption of innocence in this country. Donna is entitled to a fair trial.”

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