Appeal from the 263rd District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Cause Nos. 1543812 & 1543813
consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Jewell and
Thompson Frost, Chief Justice
Leon Phillip Jacob challenges his convictions for
solicitation to commit capital murder of two complainants,
his ex-girlfriend and his girlfriend's ex-husband. The
central issue in the jury trial was whether the evidence
established beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant intended
for a hitman to murder the complainants. Appellant's
sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenge focuses on whether the
use of initials to refer to the complainant in each
indictment creates a material variance because the trial
evidence proved the full names of each complainant. Appellant
also complains that the trial court abused its discretion in
excluding enhanced audio recordings that appellant's
expert prepared for the stated purpose of assisting the jury
in understanding recorded phone conversations. Appellant
claims the enhanced audio recordings would have given the
jury a more complete picture on the element of intent. In his
third issue appellant asserts that a comment the trial court
made during voir dire violated his right to an impartial
judge. Finding no merit in these challenges, we affirm.
Factual and Procedural Background
met and began dating Meghan Verikas in 2014 in Pittsburgh.
She moved with appellant back to his hometown of Houston.
While living together in January 2017, appellant and Verikas
had a fight, in which appellant allegedly assaulted Verikas.
Verikas moved out but had difficulty avoiding appellant, who
allegedly harassed her at her workplace. In February 2017,
charges were brought against appellant for assault and
appellant was arrested on the stalking charge, he sought out
Felix Kubosh, whose company had provided the bail bond for
the stalking offense. Appellant told Kubosh that he needed
"Zack's number." Kubosh had no clue what
appellant was talking about. To further clarify for Kubosh,
appellant explained to Kubosh that he had paid Zack "a
lot of money" to "take care of this matter"
and he needed Verikas "to not testify against him on
these cases because it would . . . hurt his medical
license." Kubosh was concerned and notified the police.
details were later uncovered as to the events that occurred
before appellant's arrest on the stalking charge. In
January 2017, appellant had asked a law-firm employee, Laura
Thurlow, to determine the status of any criminal charges
pending against him. Thurlow later would testify that
appellant also had asked a series of contingent requests -
(1) to approach Verikas to help him get Verikas back, and (2)
if she could not help him get Verikas back, he wanted Thurlow
to ask Verikas to "please leave town," and (3) if
Verikas refused to leave town, he wanted Thurlow to
"grab her, put her in a car, and take her to him or have
somebody do that" and appellant suggested he had a
syringe Thurlow could use and he would "take care of the
rest." Thurlow ultimately refused to help appellant, and
referred Moataz Azzeh, known as "Zack," to
had served in the military. Appellant wanted Azzeh to kidnap
Verikas and convince her to "drop" the criminal
case against him, and if that did not happen, he wanted Azzeh
to "make her disappear," which Azzeh interpreted as
make her "dead." After Kubosh notified the police,
the police contacted Azzeh, who became a confidential
assisted in arranging for a face-to-face meeting between
appellant and an undercover officer, Javier Duran, who was
introduced to appellant as a hitman. Valerie McDaniels, with
whom appellant had become romantically involved, also took
part in the meeting. Information that the police learned at
the meeting indicated that appellant and Valerie were seeking
to hire someone to murder Verikas and Marion "Mack"
McDaniels, Valerie's ex-husband.
addition to seeking assistance from Azzeh, the police asked
Verikas and Mack to assist in the police investigation.
Verikas and Mack posed in pictures that the police would use
to assist officer Duran in convincing appellant and Valerie
that he was carrying out the hitman's end of the bargain.
Mack posed for pictures in which it appeared that he had been
shot in a carjacking. Verikas posed for pictures in which it
appeared that she was bound and held hostage. These pictures
assisted the police in building the case against appellant
appellant and Valerie were charged by indictment with
solicitation to commit capital murder as to each of the
complainants, Valerie took her own life. Appellant pled
"not guilty" to each indictment and stood trial
before a single jury on both charges.
jury heard evidence of the events leading to the
solicitation-to-commit-capital-murder charges, including
recorded phone conversations between appellant and officer
Duran, and testimony from Thurlow, Azzeh, and Kubosh about
appellant's expressed intentions before the police
undercover unit became involved. Azzeh, Verikas, Mack, and
various members of the police department testified about
their respective involvement in the investigation and
undercover operation. Verikas and Mack testified about their
respective personal relationships with appellant and Valerie.
Jacob's mother, an attorney, testified that she had
represented Valerie in her divorce proceeding with Mack and
that Valerie had expressed intentions to kill Mack.
Undercover police officer Duran, who was named as the
solicitee in the indictment, testified that he had handled
similar operations before. He explained that only about half
the time do such operations result in criminal charges,
because the targets of the investigation sometimes choose not
to follow through with the plan.
close of the evidence, the trial court charged the jury to
determine if appellant was guilty of solicitation to commit
capital murder of either Verikas or Mack. In the charge, the
trial court inquired of appellant's guilt both as a
principal and as a party to the offenses, with Valerie acting
as the principal.
jury found appellant guilty as charged as to each offense. As
to each offense, the jury assessed appellant's punishment
at confinement for life and a $10, 000 fine.
Issues and Analysis
Sufficiency of the Evidence
first issue, appellant challenges the sufficiency of the
evidence to support his solicitation-to-commit-capital-murder
convictions. Appellant asserts that the trial evidence
is insufficient to prove the allegations as to the identity
of the complainant in each indictment. Appellant does not
assert that the evidence is insufficient in any other
respect. Appellant claims the proof at trial on the identity
of each complainant is insufficient because it shows that
appellant solicited the capital murders of "Meghan
Verikas" and "Marion 'Mack' McDaniel,"
as opposed to showing that appellant solicited the capital
murders of "M.V." and "M.M.," as alleged
in the indictments. Appellant asserts that there is a fatal
and material variance between each indictment's
allegations as to the identity of each complainant and the
proof at trial. On this basis, appellant asks this court to
overturn both convictions and render a judgment of acquittal
in each case.
evaluating a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence
supporting a criminal conviction, we view the evidence in the
light most favorable to the verdict. Wesbrook v.
State, 29 S.W.3d 103, 111 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000). The
issue on appeal is not whether we, as a court, believe the
State's evidence or believe that appellant's evidence
outweighs the State's evidence. Wicker v. State,
667 S.W.2d 137, 143 (Tex. Crim. App. 1984). The verdict may
not be overturned unless it is irrational or unsupported by
proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Matson v. State,
819 S.W.2d 839, 846 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991). The jury "is
the sole judge of the credibility of the witnesses and of the
strength of the evidence." Fuentes v. State,
991 S.W.2d 267, 271 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999). The jury may
choose to believe or disbelieve any portion of the
witnesses' testimony. Sharp v. State, 707 S.W.2d
611, 614 (Tex. Crim. App. 1986). When faced with conflicting
evidence, we presume the jury resolved conflicts in favor of
the prevailing party. Turro v. State, 867 S.W.2d 43,
47 (Tex. Crim. App. 1993). So, if any rational trier of fact
could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a
reasonable doubt, we must affirm. McDuff v. State,
939 S.W.2d 607, 614 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997).