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When prominent Houston veterinarian Valerie McDaniel started dating Leon Jacob, she thought she had met the man of her dreams. The two were newly single, and Jacob helped take Valerie’s mind off the difficult divorce and custody battle with her former husband and business partner, Marion “Mack” McDaniel III.
When Valerie feared she would lose custody of her daughter, Jacob (who had ex-girlfriend problems of his own), had the perfect solution: hire a hitman to murder both of their exes. In the end, their deadly plot — which is explored in “Murder for Hire,” premiering Saturday, Oct. 5 at 6/5c on Oxygen — did not turn out as planned.
A Texas native, Leon Jacob told CBS’s “48 Hours” that he had always wanted to be a doctor, but his career as a physician was marred by unfinished residency programs and complaints that he was "an immediate threat to patient safety," according to court records obtained by Houston CBS affiliate KHOU-TV.
He had two sons with his first wife Annie Jacob, who filed for divorce after 11 years of marriage, citing “extreme and repeated mental cruelty” in divorce documents attained by NBC affiliate KPRC-TV. He later pleaded guilty to attempted cyber stalking of his ex-wife, reported ABC News.
After his marriage fell apart, Leon Jacob began dating Meghan Verikas, whom he met in a hotel in Pittsburgh, PA. They dated and eventually moved together to Houston, TX. Jacob hoped to jumpstart his medical career, but he ended up declaring bankruptcy in 2016, according to KPRC.
In January 2017, Verikas left Jacob after filing assault charges against him. During an argument, Jacob "grabbed her face with his hands and applied pressure, busting her upper lip (and) causing her pain,” according to court documents obtained by KPRC. Following their breakup, Jacob flooded her phone with calls and text messages, and he was later arrested for stalking, according to ABC affiliate KTRK-TV. Verikas also successfully petitioned for a protective order against Jacob.
Jacob met Valerie “Val” McDaniel at the Willowick Condominiums, a luxury high-rise in one of Houston’s upscale neighborhoods. A successful and well-liked veterinarian, Valerie lived next door to Jacob’s mother and came from an esteemed local family. She had been married to Marion “Mack” McDaniel III for 17 years, but she filed for divorce in 2014, citing “infidelity,” according to KPRC.
Complicating matters was the shared custody of their young daughter and Mack’s stake in Val’s thriving veterinary practice, where he worked as an office manager. She was ultimately ordered to buy him out of the business for $1.25 million, according to KHOU.
Valerie was initially put off by Jacob, who was eight years her junior. In audio recordings she gave to KPRC, she called him, “The cockiest [expletive] I had ever met in my life … I was turned off immediately.” Despite her first impression, they became friends and then lovers. In the recordings, she called their first sexual encounter “the most passionate, romantic moment in my life.”
Valerie and Jacob bonded over their perceived mistreatment at the hands of their exes. While Verikas’ stalking and assault charges threatened Jacob’s ability to acquire a medical license in the state of Texas, Valerie fought with Mack over custody of their 8-year-old daughter. She also owed him a substantial amount of money from their divorce settlement, according to Fox News. On her recordings for KPRC, Valerie said she and Jacob talked with an acquaintance of his who could help make her ex-husband “leave [her] alone.” Talk of intimidation soon turned to threats of violence: “It just progressed,” she said.
Jacob’s acquaintance was a US Army veteran named Moataz “Zach” Azzeh, whom he had met through a mutual friend. To prevent Verikas from testifying against him in his stalking case, Jacob paid Azzeh around $10,000.
“He told me he wants to kidnap her, so he can talk to her and convince her to drop the charges,” Azzeh later said in testimony quoted by the Houston Chronicle. “If it doesn't work, he wants me to make her disappear. He wanted her gone.”
Azzeh claimed he never intended to carry out Jacob’s request and was merely milking him for money. After he got paid, Azzeh started avoiding Jacob.
Unable to locate Azzeh, Jacob went to see Michael Kubosh, a Houston city councilman and bail bondsman who had posted bail for both Jacob and Azzeh in the past. At a press conference covered by KPRC, Kubosh said Jacob wanted help finding Azzeh.
“[Jacob] said, ‘You know who Zach is. I want his number. I already paid him to take care of this matter. I want this girl out of the picture, I don’t want her to testify against me and I paid him a lot of money,” explained Kubosh about their meeting.
Instead, Kubosh went to Houston Police.
After questioning Azzeh, police asked him to cooperate with their investigation. He was told to introduce Jacob to an undercover officer who would pose as a contract killer. When Azzeh called to set up a meeting, recordings played by “48 Hours” capture Jacob saying, “We're taking care of both problems?” Azzeh didn’t know what he meant, and Jacob clarified, “Valerie wants to talk to you about what she wants to do with her ex-husband.”
The following day, Jacob and Valerie met with Azzeh and the undercover officer at an Olive Garden restaurant. They agreed that for another $10,000, Mack would be killed. His murder would be made to look like the result of a violent carjacking, and Verikas would be kidnapped and told to drop the charges against Jacob, reported “48 Hours.”
While Jacob was initially vague about what he wanted done to Verikas, he made it clear that if she did not cooperate with his demands, he wanted her gone. Jacob even offered a murder method: “Potassium chloride is untraceable,” he said in undercover footage obtained by “Murder for Hire,” adding he had easy access to the dose through Valerie’s clinic.
“I’d prefer not to do that, but my survival is more important,” explained Jacob.
Police contacted both potential victims to inform them of the threats on their lives. They also asked them to pose for a series of staged photographs to prove Verikas had been kidnapped and Mack murdered. Pig blood was used to make it look like Mack had been shot in the head, and photos of Verikas showed her bound and gagged.
“I sat in a chair in a warehouse and they zip-tied my hands and my feet and put duct tape around my mouth to make me look as though I had been kidnapped. I had sat … for an extended period of time so I was crying and really upset,” she would later testify.
The following day, the undercover officer then went to Valerie’s apartment, into which Jacob had moved, to confirm Mack had been murdered. Neither of them wanted to see photographs of the hit. Jacob then gave the undercover officer an $1,800 installment for the hit.
Later that night, he texted Jacob the staged photographs of Verikas. He called Jacob and explained that Valerie was refusing to back down or leave town.
“If I have to kill her myself, I will,” said the officer.
Jacob said he didn’t “want her hurt, but if she’s going to go to the cops… I just worry that this is going to come back to bite me or not.”
The officer then told him he would “take care of it.” Twenty minutes later, he called Jacob back, telling him that Valerie would not cooperate and that she had to be killed.
In the early morning hours of March 10, 2017, police knocked on Valerie’s door and told her that her husband had been found murdered. Both she and Jacob feigned shock, and Leon provided officers with an unsolicited alibi. The whole interaction was captured on the officers’ bodycams. Police then arrested them and charged them with solicitation of capital murder, according to ABC News.
Valerie was released on bail, and two weeks later, she died by suicide after jumping off the balcony of her seventh-floor apartment. She was to appear in court the following morning, according to KTRK. Before her death, Valerie made recordings on an iPad, telling her version of events. They were left for a friend in the building who worked at KPRC. The station later shared excerpts of the recordings, during which Valerie claimed police entrapped her and that she never wanted to hurt her daughter’s father.
“I’m so sorry about everything,” she said.
In a jail-house interview with ABC News’s “20/20” Jacob denied any culpability for Valerie’s suicide, saying, “That was a decision she made on her own.” His request to leave jail to attend her funeral was denied, and a judge decided against granting him bond.
Leon Jacob’s trial began in March 2018. He took the stand in his own defense to protest his innocence, saying, “You can assassinate my character all you want up here, but it doesn't make me guilty,” according to KTRK. The jury disagreed and convicted him on two counts of solicitation of capital murder, reported KPRC.
On March 27, 2018, Leon Jacob was sentenced to life in prison. He will not be eligible for parole for 30 years. The Houston Chronicle reported that at his sentencing, Meghan Verikas gave a victim impact statement, saying, “While you sit in jail, I hope you think of me: the girl that you called poor and uneducated. It’s because of me that you will be in prison for life.”
This fall, Oxygen’s “Murder for Hire” is back for a new season. Don't miss the premiere on Saturday, Oct. 5, at 6 p.m. ET/PT.
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