HOUSTON – Testimony began Tuesday at the trial of Leon Jacob, the man accused of orchestrating a murder-for-hire plot last year.
The jury of 11 men and one woman was seated Monday, but one juror was released Tuesday because of a family obligation. An alternate was seated, and the makeup of the jury is now ten men and two women.
Opening arguments began at 9:30 a.m. The prosecution and defense each spoke for about 15 minutes before testimony started.
Jacob and his girlfriend, Valerie McDaniel, were charged last March with soliciting capital murder after they were accused of trying to arrange the deaths of McDaniel’s ex-husband and Jacob’s ex-girlfriend.
McDaniel later committed suicide by jumping from the River Oaks highrise where she lived.
Investigators said Jacob and McDaniel offered $20,000 and two Cartier watches as payment for the hits.
The trial is expected to last at least a week.
During their opening statements Tuesday morning, prosecutors showed a photo that was staged to make it appear as if one target of the alleged murder plot was successfully killed.
They also showed a staged image of Meghan Verikas, the ex-girlfriend of Jacob.
In the image, Verikas was tied up, with tape across her mouth. Prosecutors said it appeared she was close to death, but defendant Leon Jacob did nothing to save her life.
Prosecutors said Jacob wanted her dead so she would not testify against him in a stalking trial she had filed against him.
"He's guilty of solicitation of capital murder for both Meghan Verikas and Mack McDaniel, and at the end of this trial, we will ask you to reach that verdict," prosecutor Cameron Calligan said.
But defense attorneys said Jacob did not want to hurt his ex-girlfriend. Instead, they said he wanted to spend his life with Verikas.
"He wanted to get back with Meghan, but his pleas of love went unanswered. She ignored him. She refused to take him back," one defense attorney said.
On the stand, bail bondsman and Houston City Council Member Michael Kubosh said his then-client, Jacob, contacted him wanting the name of someone Jacob knew as “Zack.”
"To be honest with you, I felt like I was talking to the devil himself when he was talking to me. It's just ... he was so aggressive," Kubosh said.
According to testimony, Jacob did eventually reach Motaz Azzeh, the man he knew as “Zack.”
Azzeh said Jacob paid him more than $10,000 in cash and jewelry to make sure that Verikas did not testify against him.
"He's always been on the track of actually killing Meghan if it doesn't go his way. Yes, he did actually propose the way to kill her. Potassium chloride to the heart. It was untraceable, those were his words," Azzeh said.