Produced by Susan Mallie, Judy Rybak, Ryan Smith and Claire St. Amant
[This story first aired on Oct. 17, 2017. It was updated on Nov. 17, 2018.]
Moataz Azzeh, a decorated former U.S. Army soldier who pretended to take on a hit job for two Houston area doctors in a murder-for-hire plot speaks out about the shocking case to 48 Hours.
Valerie McDaniel, a veterinarian, and Leon Jacob, a surgeon, quickly fell in love and even talked of marriage. Jacob was an up-and-coming doctor with plenty of confidence. She was newly single after getting a divorce from her ex-husband Marion “Mack” McDaniel. But there were some problems.
The McDaniels were in the midst of an ugly custody battle, while Leon Jacob was facing felony charges for stalking an ex-girlfriend. If found guilty on those charges, it could have upended his medical career.
Houston Police say that’s when Leon Jacob sought the help of someone he thought was a hit man to eliminate the problems.
DELIVERING BAD NEWS
It’s 3 a.m. on Friday, March 10, 2017. Houston police are making their way to the seventh-floor condo of beloved veterinarian Valerie McDaniel:
Sgt. Frank Quinn | Houston Police Dept.: I’m afraid I have some bad news.
Houston Police Sgt. Frank Quinn, second from left, tells Valerie McDaniel, left, her ex-husband has been killed.
Bad doesn’t begin to describe what’s about to be revealed:
Sgt. Frank Quinn: Uh, your, your, your, uh, ex-husband has been found with what looks like um, turns out to be a fatality. Looks like it might’ve been a robbery gone wrong. Sorry I have to tell you.
[Valerie hangs her head in her hands and cries]
Valerie McDaniel’s ex-husband, Mack, police tell her, was dead — just six months after their divorce had become final.
Sgt. Frank Quinn: Do you have anyone to call to…help you, to stay with you?
But how could Valerie’s life have arrived at this dreadful moment?
Valerie earned her degree in veterinary medicine at Texas A&M. It was during that time she met Mack McDaniel.
Greg Holloway | Valerie’s friend: My impression of Mack is that he was a good man. He was a stand-up guy.
Mack proposed, and Valerie had the man of her dreams — as she describes in that recording of her memories:
Valerie McDaniel audio diary: We had a beautiful, fairytale wedding. …Moved into a house that my parents had bought for me to live in.
Not long after that Valerie decided to open her own clinic.
Cody Bernard | Valeries’ cousin: I admired her. It really, you know, it sunk something inside me. I wanted to do that one day, something big, you know?
Mack was her office manager, but even as the vet clinic thrived, the two longed for something more.
Cody Bernard: She couldn’t have any children. …So the only option was to adopt.
In 2008, the couple adopted a daughter when she was just two days old. But as their new family came together, their marriage began to fall apart. It started, Valerie claims, with a phone call from a stranger — the woman who claimed to have been Mack’s lover. But Valerie says that wasn’t all:
Valerie McDaniel audio diary: She gave me lists of women that he had slept with…
Valerie says she confronted Mack … and forgave him. But claims it wasn’t long before Mack cheated again:
Valerie McDaniel audio: …And that was the first time I ever said the word “divorce.” …and I yelled it at him outside and I yelled it and yelled it.
Valerie says she forgave Mack yet again. But then a chance encounter would change the course of her life. Leon Jacob, the son of Valerie’s neighbor, divorce attorney Golda Jacob, stopped by.
Valerie McDaniel audio: He ran up to me and stuck his hand out and introduced himself. The cockiest mother—–r I’d ever met in my life.
Leon Jacob: Valerie was in her mid-forties but she was stunning both inside and out.
The attraction was mutual.
Valerie McDaniel audio diary: You could tell he knew how beautiful he was. …And I was lonely.
Leon Jacob was eight years younger than Valerie and a doctor.
Peter Van Sant: What type of surgeries have you done?
Leon Jacob: All kinds of surgeries. …I’ve assisted in heart, kidney, pancreas transplants.
With a strained home life and an attractive new friend, what happened next may have been inevitable.
Valerie McDaniel audio diary: He sat across from me and we had some wine and I had my feet out on the chair next to him. …And out of the blue he reached out and just ran his finger up my left foot. And that was it. …It was like a movie moment.
Peter Van Sant: It’s quite an interlude according to what she described.
Leon Jacob: Yeah. Compliments all around, I guess.
In December 2014, Valerie filed for divorce claiming Mack committed adultery. Mack’s attorneys told “48 Hours” Mack had no comment about the divorce petition and the claims Valerie made in her audio diary.
Leon Jacob and Valerie McDaniel
Between Mack’s alleged cheating and Valerie’s new love interest, both wanted out of the marriage. Their divorce was finalized in August 2016. Valerie and her daughter moved into a building in the upscale River Oaks area of Houston. Not long after, Leon joined them there.
Leon Jacob: The relationship really blossomed quickly. Because we had been very close friends for so long.
Dr. Brittany King worked alongside Valerie at the vet clinic.
Dr. Brittany King: They seemed very much in love. …Holding hands and loving towards each other.
But there was one old problem in Valerie and Leon’s new relationship. And his name was Mack.
Dr. Brittany King: There were multiple times in the clinic where she would just be in tears. “Is everything OK?” And it was something or surrounding her ex-husband.
Valerie McDaniel audio diary: Mack had found out that Leon was staying with me.
Cody Bernard: There would be arguments or stuff with the child … with visitation.
But Leon had his own issues with past loves — one involving extreme mental cruelty and another — assault and stalking charges.
Samantha Knecht is a Harris County Assistant District Attorney.
Samantha Knecht: Leon Jacob is a predator. He’s scary. …He wants what he wants and he’ll stop at nothing to get it.
Could there be more to Valerie’s new love than she can imagine?
Samantha Knecht: He has no problem using women. In fact, I think he enjoys it.
A DIABOLICAL PLAN
Valerie McDaniel’s new live-in boyfriend grew up in Texas-sized world of beauty and opulence.
Leon Jacob: I always wanted to be a doctor my whole life ever since I was about 3 or 4.
As he pursued his degrees, Leon met and married his college sweetheart. They had two boys.
Leon Jacob: We had a happy, loving family. …I got two boys … they’re the most important things to me in my life.
A good family, and now with an M.D. after his name, Leon was well on his way.
But Leon’s picture-perfect life disguised a troubled relationship. After 12 years of marriage, his wife filed for divorce. citing “extreme mental cruelty.” And one year later, Leon was arrested for stalking his now-ex.
Samantha Knecht: Leon has to be in control … when his ex-wife went to end their relationship he wasn’t gonna have it — and he wasn’t gonna go down without a fight.
Peter Van Sant: Leon, isn’t it true that you’ve had brushes with the law involving stalking, cyberstalking, intimidation—physical harassment, assault? Aren’t all those true?
Leon Jacob: I pled guilty to an attempted cyber harassment charge that was stemming from an acrimonious divorce that I went through with my previous wife.
Leon admits that he called often, but he says it was simply speak with his boys.
Leon Jacob: I tried desperately to contact my kids over and over again. I’m not gonna apologize for that.
Leon finally moved on to a new residency, and was living in Pittsburgh, where he met 33-year-old Meghan Verikas.
Leon Jacob: I met Meghan in a hotel — in Pittsburgh … She was the assistant general manager there.
Meghan Verikas and Leon Jacob
The new couple moved to Houston. There were lavish vacations, and family get-togethers, and yet another residency, Leon’s seventh.
Samantha Knecht: He’s a failed doctor… He’s been kicked out of every residency program he’s ever been a part of.
Peter Van Sant: And what’s the problem? What was the basis of these dismissals, do you know?
Samantha Knecht: The belief that he was the smartest guy in the room. Inability to get along with people … Inability to get along with patients. And in fact, one of the records that we found said that they believe that he was a danger to the patients and that he would be a liability for them to keep around.
Three years into their relationship, Meghan Verikas thought Leon was a threat to her, too. Meghan kicked Leon out of their apartment, later accusing him of assaulting her.
Leon Jacob: She wanted me to move all my stuff out … she came there and was very hostile. The police were called. There was no violence of any kind. …And a day later, she claimed that I had hit her.
Peter Van Sant: And that you’d put a hand over her mouth.
Leon Jacob: Yeah, which is not true.
Samantha Knecht: Leon is about Leon and it frustrated him to no end that Meghan Verikos would not forgive him … and the fact that he couldn’t get Meghan back frustrated him and angered him.
Leon was arrested in February 2007 for assault and stalking.
“I take no pleasure in having to interview with “48 Hours” about this,” Leon Jacob tells correspondent Peter Van Sant.
Leon Jacob: … you can charge anybody with anything; it doesn’t mean that you’re guilty of that.
Prosecutors are convinced that Leon knew his future as a doctor would be destroyed if Meghan testified against him. So, they believe, he planned a little operation to make his pain go away.
Samantha Knecht: He feels like if Meghan disappears … if she goes away … that his criminal case will go away, and he can resume his career as this beloved surgeon that he thinks that he is.
Prosecutors claim Leon decided what he needed was a hit man. And he thought he’d found one.
Peter Van Sant: Taz, are you a hit man?
Moataz Azzeh: No.
Peter Van Sant: Were you ever willing to murder anyone for money?
Moataz Azzeh: No, no. No. I would never do something like that.
Taz Azzeh was introduced to Leon by a mutual acquaintance.
Peter Van Sant: Did Leon ever tell you how he wanted his ex-girlfriend to be killed?
Moataz Azzeh: Yes … he actually — offered suggestions. One of ’em was a syringe to the heart with potassium, to give her a heart attack and would actually kill her.
Taz is a decorated former U.S. Army soldier, who saw Leon’s deadly demand as an opportunity to save a life.
Moataz Azzeh: I saw somebody in danger and I knew that I can do somethin’ about it and I did something about it.
Leon knew Taz by the codename Zack. He says Leon wanted him to kidnap Meghan, first to talk her into taking him back, and if that didn’t work, leaving town. But that wasn’t all.
Moataz Azzeh: And … I was like, “If she doesn’t leave, what are you gonna do?” And he was like, “I want you to kill her.”
Leon Jacob: I’m not gonna comment on any of this. It’s just ridiculous.
Taz says Leon paid him $9,000 which he happily spent.
Moataz Azzeh: To be honest, I don’t feel bad that I spent Jacob’s money. Matter of fact, I feel really good that I spent his money [nervous laughter].
Then, the man Leon knew as Zack vanished.
Michael Kubosh: Leon Jacob– was one of the most unique– individuals I’d ever met.
Michael Kubosh: This guy was focused … was very intimidating … didn’t shake my hand, never greeted me, just wanted to know one thing. “I want Zach’s number.” …He said, “I’ve paid Zach a lot of money to take care of this.” I felt like I was talking to the devil himself.
AN ELABORATE STING
Tucked away on a side street in Houston is perhaps the most colorful bail bondsman in all of Texas
Peter Van Sant: Having hung out a bit with you, you are the Elvis of bail bondsmen.
Michael Kubosh: [Laughs].
His name is Michael Kubosh and he understands the criminal mind.
Michael Kubosh: I deal with the nicest, the kindest and the meanest people on the face of the earth. I’ve bonded out judges, prostitutes, preachers, missionaries.
He’s also a larger-than-life member of the Houston City Council, who helped save lives during Hurricane Harvey.
Michael Kubosh: I know all the major law enforcement people in — in the whole county.
Leon had stormed into Kubosh’s office.
Michael Kubosh: He said, “I’ve paid Zach a lot of money to take care of this.” “To take care of what?” He said, “I want her out of the picture. And – and — and the — I — she can’t be testifyin’ against me.”
Peter Van Sant: Out of the picture.
Michael Kubosh: Out of the picture. …I believed that he meant ill toward this woman. …And that’s why I called the chief…
Peter Van Sant: The chief of?
Michael Kubosh: The chief of police in Houston, Texas.
A search for the mysterious “Zach” was triggered, and investigators quickly learned his real name, Moataz “Taz” Azzeh. It was a name that Kubosh did recognize as a former military man who was facing a misdemeanor theft charge for stealing from his roommate.
Michael Kubosh: He was on bond with me. He was still free.
It took Houston police about a week to find Taz, and that’s when things got really interesting.
Detective “Javier” is an undercover officer with the Houston Police Department.
Det. Javier: To me Taz seemed genuinely concerned for Meghan. He didn’t wanna see her hurt.
So Taz agreed to participate in a sting operation, to help catch Leon Jacob in the act of soliciting a murder:
Leon Jacob [on the phone]: Hello?
Moataz Azzeh: Hey, what’s up man.
Leon Jacob: How you doing buddy?
Taz told Leon that he felt he had grown too close to him and Valerie McDaniel, and thought it best to hire another hit man. And he knew just the right guy:
Moataz Azzeh: Can you can meet tomorrow?
Leon Jacob: Yeah, I will clear my schedule.
The next day, Taz would introduce Leon to his new hit man — undercover Detective Javier. But before Taz could hang up, Leon dropped a bomb:
Leon Jacob: [On the phone]: We’re taking care of both problems?
Moataz Azzeh: What problems?
Leon Jacob: Both of the individuals we are talking about.
Moataz Azzeh: Ah, OK.
Valerie McDaniel — Leon’s new girlfriend, the mild mannered veterinarian who friends had described as an angel — wanted her ex-husband murdered.
Leon Jacob [On the phone]: Valerie wants to talk to you about what she wants done with her ex-husband.
Moataz Azzeh: OK that’s good … alright, just bring her with you tomorrow.
Leon Jacob, left and “Taz” Azzeh after the undercover meeting
The next day, Leon and Valerie met with Taz and Detective Javier at an Olive Garden to discuss the fate of both their exes over lunch.
Det. Javier: …the entire operation was recorded.
The meeting lasted nearly two hours and began with Leon’s target: Meghan:
OLIVE GARDEN MEETING:
Leon Jacob: I don’t want her hurt, but I want her to go.
Det. Javier: He told me that he wanted me to run her off the road and threaten her… But then … he would say to me, “If she does not understand that, then you do what you have to do.”
OLIVE GARDEN MEETING:
Leon Jacob: If those options don’t work, I don’t give a f— …then you gotta do what you gotta do … I need her gone…
Det. Javier: There was no doubt in my mind that Leon wanted Meghan killed.
The subject then turned to Valerie’s target: her ex-husband, Mack McDaniel:
OLIVE GARDEN MEETING:
Valerie McDaniel: Let’s say if something were to happen to him, what would it be? Would it be like a car wreck or…?
Det. Javier: It could be a car wreck. It could be a robbery gone wrong.
Det. Javier: She was under the belief that I was going to carjack him … and I was going to put a bullet in his head, which is exactly what I told her I was going to do.
OLIVE GARDEN MEETING:
Det. Javier: But you need to give me the go ahead. Want to do that?
Valerie McDaniel: What other option do I have? He’s going to take my daughter.
In an elaborate undercover sting operation, police got the potential victims – Valerie McDaniel’s ex-husband Mack is shown here — to participate posing in staged pictures as if the crimes had occurred.
The next day, March 9, 2017, Detective Javier called Leon to say he had “good” news that he insisted on delivering in person. He went to their home where he informed them Mack was dead. Neither wanted to see a photo which seemed to show Mack with a gunshot to the head.
Peter Van Sant: When Valerie got the news that her husband was dead, was she emotional about it? Did she say, “Oh my God, I never wanted to go this far?”
Det. Javier: She did not show that.
What they didn’t know is that Mack was alive and well. He’d posed for the photos as part of this elaborate sting operation. Believing Mack was dead, Leon set his sights back on Meghan:
Leon Jacob: So you’re gonna snatch her and you’re bring her somewhere and talk to her.
Det. Javier: That’s the plan.
Leon Jacob: If I need to show up, you call me.
These staged photos of Meghan Verikas were sent to her ex-boyfriend, Leon Jacob. Meghan was part of an elaborate sting by police.
Later that night, staged photographs of Meghan were texted to Leon. He was told she was so out of control, she had to be killed:
Det. Javier: She’s dead. She’s gone.
Leon Jacob: I don’t want to know anything.
Peter Van Sant: On that scale of good to evil, in your mind what is Leon Jacob?
Det. Javier: Leon is a very evil person. …he was willing to do whatever he needed to do to survive.
A SURREAL SCENE
Sgt. Frank Quinn | Houston Police Dept.: It was probably around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning.
On March 10, 2017, Valerie McDaniel and her live-in boyfriend, Leon Jacob, get a wake-up call from Sergeant Frank Quinn that will soon lead to an Oscar-winning performance.
Valerie McDaniel: [Opens door to police]: What’s going on?
Samantha Knecht | Harris County Assistant D.A.: She lets them inside but she feigns surprise. She can’t understand why they’re there.
Remember, just hours before, Detective Javier, posing as a hit man, had told her that Mack was dead. Now, Valerie has to convince police she is hearing it for the first time:
Sgt. Frank Quinn [to Valerie]: Sorry to have to tell you. Have you heard from him recently?
Samantha Knecht: She pretends to be upset. She puts her head in her hands. She sits down and acts like she’s completely shocked and surprised that her ex-husband is dead.
Sgt. Frank Quinn: Is your boyfriend here? I think he can be a little help to us now.
Valerie McDaniel: Sure.
The surreal scene, caught by the body cameras of Houston police, is about to reach its climax:
Houston police body cameras capture the reaction of Leon Jacob and Valerie McDaniel as they learn the news about Valerie’s ex-husband.
Sgt. Frank Quinn We were hoping you could help us. We have some bad news. Her ex-husband was killed…
Leon Jacob: Oh my God!
Sgt. Frank Quinn: …in a robbery gone wrong.
Leon Jacob: Holy s—!
Sgt. Frank Quinn: We want to see if anyone knows anything.
Leon Jacob [puts his arms around Valerie]: Are you OK, baby?
Leon Jacob: We’ve been here all day with their daughter. We’ve been watching movies. We haven’t been out of the house all day.
Then, the cops decide to call “cut!” on all this bad acting:
Sgt. Frank Quinn: Right now we’re gonna read you your rights…
Leon Jacob: Me?
Sgt. Frank Quinn: …because you’re both being arrested for solicitation of capital murder.
It is only then that the couple learns that both their intended targets are alive and well.
Leon Jacob: I don’t know why I’m being arrested.
Leon is led out.
Leon Jacob: I need my sweatshirt. I’m already cold.
Valerie has a much bigger concern: her daughter who’s been asleep in the apartment this whole time. Although not caught on camera, Mack McDaniel arrives to pick up their 8-year-old.
Peter Van Sant: What did Valerie say to her?
Sgt. Frank Quinn: She — you know, something along the lines, “I’m just — taking you – to — your daddy’s outside and he’s gonna take ya.” And it was very benign and, you know, just normal as could be.
Valerie McDaniel and Leon Jacob
Michael Kubosh | Bail bondsman: And so all of the sudden on the news media came the arrest of two doctors.
Greg Holloway | Valerie’s friend: I’m laying there thinking, “Well, that’s not the Valerie I know.” And they showed the film of her going up for her arraignment.
Peter Van Sant: Did you about fall out of your chair?
Greg Holloway: Almost rolled outta the bed!
Because Leon has those other charges related to Meghan Verikas pending, he doesn’t make bail. But Valerie does and goes home to wait for the legal process to play out.
Dr. Brittany King | Valerie’s coworker: I remember texting her throughout the week, you know, and calling her and constantly sending her “I love you, you can get through this, so happy you’re out.”
Valerie’s veterinary license got suspended because of the charges. King says Valerie was weighed down by her arrest, and the prospect she wouldn’t be seeing her daughter for a long, long time. She visited Valerie at her high-rise condo.
Dr. Brittany King: I remember giving her a hug goodbye at the end. And I just felt the life in her eyes was not there.
Valerie McDaniel audio diary: It’s weird. Things — it wasn’t like bam, bam, bam, a progression. Things just gradually happened.
Two weeks after the shock and shame of being charged with solicitation of capital murder, Valerie McDaniel used her iPad to record her side of the story:
Valerie McDaniel audio diary: I didn’t wake up one day and just say, “Hey, I wanna kill my ex-husband.”
For Valerie, everything she loved was slipping away.
Valerie McDaniel audio diary: I wanna talk to my daughter. I wanna talk to Leon. …I’m just not strong enough. I wish I were. I just can’t do it. Just can’t do it.”
Two days after her final recording, on March 27, 2017, Valerie — who once seemed unstoppable — did the unthinkable. She climbed over the railing of her apartment balcony and jumped seven stories to her death.
Leon Jacob: I was shocked. It was really upsetting. …She wanted me to be home with her and that, you know, we were gonna get through this. …It was devastating and shocking.
Samantha Knecht |Harris County Assistant D.A.: I think that she was in a very vulnerable position when she met Leon Jacob. …but I think he influenced her and brainwashed her.
Leon Jacob: I’m innocent and as a human being and as a physician, that thought of killing somebody else is, just goes against everything in my nature.
Leon has hired one of the top defense attorneys in Texas, George Parnham, who says Valerie McDaniel was the one calling all the shots.
George Parnham: I am — am sorry for her demise. But … I believe that Valerie — is and was responsible for this entire scenario.
Peter Van Sant: That she was the driver? …she was the financier of all of this?
George Parnham: That is my understanding.
The question now: what will a jury think? On March 20, 2018, a week before the first anniversary of Valerie’s suicide, Leon alone stands trial on two counts of solicitation of capital murder.
Cameron Calligan [in court]: One of the things you’ll learn about Leon Jacob is that he has to be in control. …Mack was going to die, and Meghan was going to die.
Cameron Calligan is Samantha Knecht’s co-prosecutor. He says Leon’s motive was clear.
Cameron Calligan [in court]: There were two obstacles to the defendant’s new life with Valerie McDaniel. It was Mack and it was Meghan. Mack could keep Valerie away from him by making Valerie choose between the defendant and her daughter, and Meghan could make him end up in prison.
George Parnham’s co-counsel, Matthew Pospisil, claims that it was the undercover officer, whose identity “48 Hours” is protecting by calling Detective Javier, who pushed Valerie and Leon to make a deadly choice.
Matthew Pospisil [in court]: If it was not for Officer ***** trying to make this into a television story and force his own narrative, Leon would not be forced here today to tell his story.
Testimony begins with some of the early stops on this long road to justice, starting with Meghan Verikas.
Michael Kubosh: He didn’t want her to testify against him and he had paid somebody a lot of money to make sure that she wouldn’t be here to testify against him.
Moataz Azzeh: He wanted to make her disappear. …he wanted her gone, like dead.
Before the trial concludes, two potential victims will rise from the dead to take the stand and the jury will hear from Leon who says he’s only guilty of being a Casanova.
Leon Jacob: I have no problem sitting here and saying that I slept with Valerie seven days after Meghan and I broke up, but I am not on trial for being a womanizer. I am on trial for solicitation of capital murder. So you can assassinate my character all you want up here, it doesn’t make me guilty of what you are charging.
One of the prosecution’s strongest witnesses, Meghan Verikas — Leon’s ex-girlfriend who had filed assault charges against him in January 2017 — takes the stand
Meghan Verikas: It was a long time coming. I tried to leave several times.
She recalls Leon coming to the house where she was staying just after the alleged incident.
Meghan Verikas: I obviously didn’t wanna be near him. So I hid in a closet.
Samantha Knecht: Why did you hide in a closet?
Meghan Verikas: Because I was afraid of Leon. …He came in and was screaming and yelling … And he said, “I know that you’re — I know that that bitch is here.”
Meghan says Leon kept pursuing her when she was at work:
Meghan Verikas: He was in the bushes outside– on a cell phone– waiting for me.
And when she drove to her new home.
Meghan Verikas: At that point I called 911 to let them know that, you know, my ex-boyfriend who assaulted me was — in a car behind me. …At some point — Leon had gotten out of his vehicle in front of mine just yelling and waving his hands sayin’, “You know, just talk to me. Just talk to me. I need to talk to you.”
Leon was arrested a second time, on stalking charges, on Feb. 16, 2017. Less than 10 days after that, Meghan Verikas was contacted by police and warned her life could be in danger. She fled to her hometown of Pittsburgh, but police soon called her to return to Houston to be part of that sting operation.
Meghan Verikas: I sat in a chair in a warehouse.
Meghan Verikas: They zip tied my hands and my feet — and put duct tape around my mouth to — make me look as if I had been kidnapped. …I was crying and really upset.
Next, it was Valerie’s ex-husband Mack McDaniel’s turn. He recalled finding out his ex-wife was living with Leon.
Samantha Knecht: What was your initial reaction to that?
Mack McDaniel: My initial reaction was not good.
Samantha Knecht: Why was that?
Mack McDaniel: Because I was aware of his history, his criminal history.
Samantha Knecht: Did you convey to Valerie that you did not want the defendant around your daughter on the weeks that she had custody of *******?
Mack McDaniel: Yes, ma’am.
Samantha Knecht: Did she agree to that?
Mack McDaniel: She did.
Samantha Knecht: At some point, did you learn that she was not abiding by the agreement?
Mack McDaniel: I did.
Mack McDaniel tells the jury he, too, was notified he was the target of a murder plot. Then the prosecution shows the jury that photo:
Samantha Knecht: Can you describe for the members of the jury what you’re doing here?
Mack McDaniel: Staging my own death.
Samantha Knecht: Did they pour blood on you?
Mack McDaniel: Pig’s blood.
Three days into the five-day trial, it’s the defense’s turn. They call their star witness:
Leon Jacob: I never asked anybody to kill anybody.
George Parnham: Does the word kill, hurt, harm in any way, shape, or form appear in any of those recorded conversations?
Leon Jacob: Not on my behalf. …Except for to exclude them from things I want done. I never asked to have anybody hurt, killed, harmed, kidnapped. I never asked for anybody to be in any way physically hurt.
Undercover cop: She’s dead. She’s gone.
Leon Jacob: I don’t want to know anything.
But the prosecution says that’s not true. And they claim those undercover tapes back that up.
Samantha Knecht: Did you not want anybody hurt when you said inject her with potassium chloride, stop her heart, untraceable?
Leon Jacob: I said that was something you could do. I didn’t say that for him to do that.
Samantha Knecht: Did you recall telling the undercover office, “if those options don’t work, I don’t give a f—.Then you got to do what you got to do because my survival is more important?”
Leon Jacob: Yes.
Leon’s own words come back to haunt him regarding Mack as well. After the undercover officer proposed a fatal carjacking, [Undercover cop: It could be a robbery gone wrong.] Leon offered $10,000 in four weekly installments.
Charged with solicitation of capital murder, Leon Jacob testifies during his trial.
Samantha Knecht: OK, so you agreeing you gave him $2,500 just after he tells you, I am going to put a bullet in his head and throw him on the street.
Leon Jacob: If that’s what you say.
Samantha: Well that’s in the recording. It’s not what I say. It’s what Javier and you said, right?
Leon Jacob: I guess.
Leon and the defense team try to make their point that the undercover officer was pressuring them into making deadly decisions.
Leon Jacob: I kept on telling him I didn’t want anybody hurt and they kept on going back to the theme of killing people … I felt a lot of pressure from them to sort of commit to this idea of killing people and that was never my intent.
Matthew Pospisil: Were you asking them to threaten people?
Leon Jacob: Essentially, yes.
Matthew Pospisil: Did you actually want any harm to come to anybody?
Leon Jacob: No.
But the prosecution points out that when Leon thought Meghan was tied up and refusing to cooperate, he did nothing to stop the lethal final step.
Samantha Knecht: You would agree with me that you never said no-no I don’t want you to do anything, stop this. You didn’t say anything like that did you?
Leon Jacob: No.
The jury gets the case and takes just an hour and 15 minutes before returning to the courtroom.
Judge: Has the jury reached unanimous verdicts on both cases?
Jury foreperson: Yes, Your honor. …We the jury find the defendant Leon Jacob guilty of solicitation of capital murder as charged in the indictment.
Leon Jacob is found guilty on both counts of conspiring to have Meghan and Mack killed. The trial moves to the sentencing phase. The same jury that found Leon guilty will decide his punishment.
New testimony begins.
Meghan Verikas: I have no sense of trust, just constantly afraid that something else is going to happen.
The only thing that might impact Leon’s sentence more than the words of his ex-girlfriend may end up being the words of his ex-wife.
Annie Morrison has flown in from Chicago to testify.
Annie Morrison: There was a time that we got into a fight and he pulled a knife on me.
Annie Morrison: There was one time he pushed my head down onto the counter and bruised my face near my eye.
Morrison recounts an incident she says occurred when she was seven months pregnant with their second child:
Annie Morrison: He threatened to punch me in the stomach. He kicked my legs. I remember … I remember bringing my legs up as far as I could towards my chest to try to protect my stomach.
Annie Morrison: He threatened that if I ever left that he would kill me. He said that nobody would ever find my body because he was a doctor and he had access to chemicals that would dissolve my body.
Morrison did leave, moving to her parents’ home in Chicago. That’s when Leon started threatening her parents — as the jury heard in a recording Annie made of a phone call with Leon:
Leon Jacob phonecall: I will torture them in front of you. Do you understand me, you f*****g bitch.
The jury took just one hour to decide Leon Jacob’s sentence: life in prison on each count — solicitation of capital murder for Meghan Verikas and Mack McDaniel.
“While you sit in jail I hope you think of me, the girl that you called poor and uneducated. Because it’s because of me you will be in prison for life,” Meghan Verikas tells Leon Jacob during her victim impact statement.
In Texas, the victim impact statements come after the sentence. Meghan takes the stand one last time.
Meghan Verikas: You will never see your children grow up. You will not be a part of their lives and they will be better for it. …You destroyed me financially and took away my sense of security but you can do that no more.
Meghan Verikas: While you sit in jail I hope you think of me, the girl that you called poor and uneducated. Because it’s because of me you will be in prison for life.
Leon Jacob will be eligible for parole in the year 2047. He will be 69 years old.
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