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Appellate lawyers argue that Harris County botched murder-for-hire trial

April 18, 2019 GMT

A lawyer for a failed Houston doctor convicted of conspiring to have his ex-girlfriend and his girlfriend’s ex-husband murdered argued Wednesday that his trial did not link the would-be victims to their initials in the criminal indictment.

The indictment against 41-year-old Leon Jacob listed the targets of his murder-for-hire plot by their initials. The name M.V. stood for Jacob’s ex-girlfriend Meghan Verikas, while M.M. was the initials for Marion McDaniel, the ex-husband of Jacob’s girlfriend, Valerie McDaniel, a popular Montrose veterinarian who killed herself soon after her arrest in the case.

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Jacob was convicted of paying an undercover Houston police officer who posed as a hit man to kill Verikas and McDaniel. Both were identified by their full name in news accounts of the week-long trial in March 2018.

“I don’t know who the individuals were as alleged in the indictment because it’s just initials,” said Scott Schearer, an appellate lawyer who was not part of Jacob’s criminal case.

“M.M. could be anything. It could be Mickey Mouse,” Schearer said in front of Chief Justice Kem Thompson Frost in the 14th Court of Appeals.

Schearer said he went through court transcripts and never found a hint that M.M. was McDaniel or M.V. was Verikas. He pointed out the presumed oversight to Frost in an attempt to overturn Jacob’s life sentence for solicitation of capital murder.

“Surprisingly, during the trial, and I’ve never seen this happen before, there was no evidence ever to connect the initials with either of the complaining witnesses. It was very unusual,” Schearer said after the hearing.

An appeals filing on Monday goes into depth about the initials, despite having misspelled Verikas’ name as “Meaghan Verikas” on multiple occasions.

The attorney said he believes the error during trial could have been avoided had both witnesses testified to using the pseudonyms in the indictment or if the prosecutors spoke on the record tying the witnesses to their initials.

Frost posed the question of whether inference between the initials and the names stated in court was enough. Schearer said no.

In response to Shearer, Harris County Assistant District Attorney Bridget Holloway contended that testimony from Verikas, for example, was enough to link her to her initials.

“She testified that this is my name,” Holloway said.

“He knew from the get-go who these individuals were,” she added.

The appeal asks that the appellate court reverse Jacob’s conviction and sentence or allow him a second trial.

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Jacob was initially charged in the murder-for-hire plot last year with McDaniel, who killed herself a short time later by jumping off a balcony at her River Oaks complex.

The two wanted to dispose of their exes and began negotiating with someone they thought was a hitman, prosecutors alleged during the six-day trial.

Jacob is serving the life sentence at the Wynne Unit in Huntsville and was absent from the oral arguments. Relatives to the convict who attended the hearing declined to comment while rushing out of the courtroom.

He is eligible for parole in 2047, prison records show.

nicole.hensley@chron.com