Leon Jacob, man accused of plotting River Oaks murder-for-hire, on trial

HOUSTON – More than a year after a Houston couple was arrested, accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill their exes, the case finally went to trial on Monday in downtown Houston.

The trial began with jury selection that is expected to last about a week.

On Monday morning, the judge was waiting to hear pretrial motions.

A larger jury pool was requested since the case has garnered international attention. It was not immediately known if the request was approved. 

Before jury selection began, there was a hearing on several motions related to the case.

The prosecution expected to ask the judge if Jacob's troubled past can be used in the trial.

Leon Jacob is accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill his ex-girlfriend and his new girlfriend’s ex-husband. Jacob has been in jail without bond since March 2017.

His new girlfriend, Valerie McDaniel, was also arrested last year and bonded out. Her case will not go to trial because she committed suicide shortly after getting out of jail. McDaniel was a well-known veterinarian. 

She left behind a young daughter.  

McDaniel left behind an audio diary. It was taped just before she committed suicide.

'I didn't want to hurt him,' Valerie McDaniel says in message she shared

Channel 2 Investigates has extensively reported on Jacob’s troubled past, including the fact that he was kicked out of medical programs and had various run-ins with the law.

Houston murder-for-hire plot: Leon Jacob's troubled past

Before jury selection begins on Monday, there will be a hearing on several motions related to this case, and the prosecution will ask the judge whether it may be allowed to include Jacob’s past in the trial.

File: Leon Jacob Timeline_20180316183115

After the motions hearing, jury selection will get underway. This case has garnered international attention and has been the focus of several network television programs. A larger jury pool has been requested.

Where does the criminal justice system stand post-Harvey?

Even though this is a solicitation of capital murder case, the trial will take place in the Harris County Civil Courthouse. The criminal courthouse has been closed since Harvey flooded the building. There are not many places to house inmates in the civil courthouse, so the question remains: How will deputies bring Jacob from the jail to the civil courthouse every day? 

Will he be paraded outside on the street and up the front steps of the courthouse, or will he be brought through a back entrance? Since Harvey, Jacob’s hearings have been held in the basement of the jail.

Both sides have subpoenaed a long list of people. If jury selection moves quickly, Jacob’s ex-girlfriend is expected to take the stand as early as Monday, March 26. Witnesses will be flying in from around the country. They include Jacob’s ex-wife from Illinois, his former co-worker from Ohio and that co-worker’s ex-husband.

Witnesses from Houston include Jacob’s ex-girlfriend, McDaniel’s ex-husband and Jacob’s mother, Golda. Golda Jacob is a high-profile attorney who once served as Leon Jacob’s attorney on this case. Leon Jacob’s sister has also been subpoenaed, and as an undercover Houston police officer. 

Wallace wants the case to move quickly. Each side will get approximately 15 minutes for opening arguments. The trial could be done in one week, but most likely will go longer.

Jury selection

Jacob, wearing a coat and tie, casually sat in court, rocking back and forth, Monday afternoon. He had worn an orange jail jumpsuit at previous hearings.

He listened as Judge Jim Wallace, his attorneys and prosecutors questioned a total of 80 prospective jurors.

About a third of the potential jurors indicated they had heard about the case.

Four said they could not sit in judgment as jurors for religious reasons.

The group was narrowed down to 12 jurors, plus alternates.

It consists of 11 men and one woman. Testimony is to begin at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“It hit all of the hot-button issues in the criminal justice system: love; betrayal; high-profile; high-stakes divorce,” said KPRC legal analyst Brian Wice.

Wice said the case will be based on recorded conversations between Jacob and law enforcement officials. Jacob is accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill his ex-girlfriend and his new girlfriend's ex-husband.

Prosecutors said the person Jacob thought was a hit man was actually an undercover officer.

"This is a case where the tale of the tape is ultimately going to dictate what happens to Mr. Jacob. It's not a situation where the defense can chip away at someone's credibility claiming that they are an informant looking for a deal to get out of the penitentiary," Wice said.

“It is my belief that the words of Leon had been prompted by the officer,” said Jacob’s attorney, George Parnham. "This whole issue relies on the recordings of conversations and what the words meant that were spoken to the undercover (officer), and we have linguistic experts that will be available.”

The alleged target of the plot, Jacob’s ex-girlfriend, is expected to be one of the first to testify.

“She’s looking forward to getting on the stand and telling what happened to her. What happened to her, you couldn’t concoct a Lifetime movie as to what she went through, the ordeal she had to go through, staging her own death and having to wait and wait and having to make sure that he remained in custody,” said crime victims advocate Andy Kahan, speaking for the ex-girlfriend.