Produced by Susan Mallie, Judy Rybak, Ryan Smith and Claire St. Amant
Moataz Azzeh, a decorated former U.S. Army soldier who pretended to take on a hit job for two Houston area doctors in a murder-for-hire plot speaks out about the shocking case for the first time ever to 48 Hours.
Valerie McDaniel, a veterinarian, and Leon Jacob, a surgeon, quickly fell in love and even talked of marriage. Jacob was an up-and-coming doctor with plenty of confidence. She was newly single after getting a divorce from her ex-husband Marion "Mack" McDaniel. But there were some problems.
The McDaniels were in the midst of an ugly custody battle, while Leon Jacob was facing felony charges for stalking an ex-girlfriend. If found guilty on those charges, it could have upended his medical career.
Houston Police say that's when Leon Jacob sought the help of someone he thought was a hit man to eliminate the problems.
DELIVERING BAD NEWS
It's 3 a.m. on Friday, March 10, 2017. Houston police are making their way to the seventh-floor condo of beloved veterinarian Valerie McDaniel:
Sgt. Frank Quinn | Houston Police Dept.: I'm afraid I have some bad news.
Bad doesn't begin to describe what's about to be revealed:
Sgt. Frank Quinn: Uh, your, your, your, uh, ex-husband has been found with what looks like um, turns out to be a fatality. Looks like it might've been a robbery gone wrong. Sorry I have to tell you.
Valerie McDaniel's ex-husband, Mack, police tell her, was dead -- just six months after their divorce had become final.
Sgt. Frank Quinn: Do you have anyone to call to…help you, to stay with you?
But how could Valerie's life have arrived at this dreadful moment?
Cody Bernard is Valerie's cousin.
Cody Bernard: "Angel student" they called her.
Peter Van Sant: The angel student.
Cody Bernard: The angel student, yeah.
Valerie earned her degree in veterinary medicine at Texas A&M. It was during that time she met Mack McDaniel.
VALERIE MCDANIEL AUDIO DIARY: I met, through friends, a man named Mack McDaniel and thought he was the cutest thing. Tall and skinny with his boots.
Greg Holloway | Valerie's friend: My impression of Mack is that he was a good man. He was a stand-up guy.
Mack proposed, and Valerie had the man of her dreams -- as she describes in that recording of her memories:
VALERIE MCDANIEL AUDIO DIARY: We had a beautiful, fairy-tale wedding. …Moved into a house that my parents had bought for me to live in.
Not long after that Valerie decided to open her own clinic.
Cody Bernard: I admired her. It really, you know, it sunk something inside me. I wanted to do that one day, something big, you know?
Mack was her office manager, but even as the vet clinic thrived, the two longed for something more.
Cody Bernard: She couldn't have any children. …So the only option was to adopt.
In 2008, the couple adopted a daughter when she was just two days old. But as their new family came together, their marriage began to fall apart. It started, Valerie claims, with a phone call from a stranger -- the woman who claimed to have been Mack's lover. But Valerie says that wasn't all:
VALERIE MCDANIEL AUDIO DIARY: She gave me lists of women that he had slept with...
Including, Valerie says, one of her best friends. Stunned, she says she rushed home and confronted her husband:
VALERIE MCDANIEL AUDIO DIARY: And I forgave him, I don't know why. …He promised he'd never do it again. But now I know, I know that cheaters cheat. Cheaters cheat.
Valerie claims it wasn't long before she caught Mack again; this time, under her own roof:
VALERIE MCDANIEL AUDIO DIARY: I heard the … noises of two people making out. And I lost it. …Rage took over. …And that was the first time I ever said the word "divorce." …and I yelled it at him outside and I yelled it and yelled it.
Valerie says she forgave Mack yet again. But then a chance encounter would change the course of her life. Leon Jacob, the son of Valerie's neighbor, divorce attorney Golda Jacob, stopped by:
VALERIE MCDANIEL AUDIO DIARY: He ran up to me and stuck his hand out and introduced himself. The cockiest mother-----r I'd ever met in my life.
Leon Jacob: Valerie was in her mid-forties but she was stunning both inside and out.
The attraction was mutual:
VALERIE MCDANIEL AUDIO DIARY: You could tell he knew how beautiful he was. …And I was lonely.
Leon Jacob was eight years younger than Valerie and a doctor.
Peter Van Sant: What type of surgeries have you done?
Leon Jacob: All kinds of surgeries. …I've assisted in heart, kidney, pancreas transplants.
With a strained home life and an attractive new friend, what happened next may have been inevitable:
VALERIE MCDANIEL AUDIO DIARY: He sat across from me and we had some wine and I had my feet out on the chair next to him. …And out of the blue he reached out and just ran his finger up my left foot. And that was it. …It was like a movie moment.
Peter Van Sant: It's quite an interlude according to what she described.
Leon Jacob: Yeah. Compliments all around, I guess.
In December 2014, Valerie filed for divorce claiming Mack committed adultery. Mack's attorneys told "48 Hours" Mack had no comment about the divorce petition and the claims Valerie made in her audio diary.
Between Mack's alleged cheating and Valerie's new love interest, both wanted out of the marriage. Their divorce was finalized in August 2016. Valerie and her daughter moved into a building in the upscale River Oaks area of Houston. Not long after, Leon joined them there.
Leon Jacob: The relationship really blossomed quickly. Because we had been very close friends for so long.
Dr. Brittany King: I think she was excited. I saw it as positive.
Dr. Brittany King worked alongside Valerie at the vet clinic.
Peter Van Sant: What were Valerie and Leon like together? What was that dynamic like?
Dr. Brittany King: They seemed very much in love. …Holding hands and loving towards each other.
But there was one old problem in Valerie and Leon's new relationship. And his name was Mack.
Dr. Brittany King: There were multiple times in the clinic where she would just be in tears. "Is everything OK?" And it was something or surrounding her ex-husband.
VALERIE MCDANIEL AUDIO DIARY : Mack had found out that Leon was staying with me.
Cody Bernard: There would be arguments or stuff with the child … with visitation.
But Leon had his own issues with past loves -- one involving extreme mental cruelty and another -- outstanding assault and stalking charges.
Samantha Knecht is a Harris County Assistant District Attorney.
Samantha Knecht: Leon Jacob is a predator. He's scary. …He wants what he wants and he'll stop at nothing to get it.
Could there be more to Valerie's new love than she can imagine?
Samantha Knecht: He has no problem using women. In fact, I think he enjoys it.
A DIABOLICAL PLAN
Valerie McDaniel's new live-in boyfriend grew up in Texas-sized world of beauty and opulence. The eldest son of two Houston professionals, Leon Jacob seemed to have it all.
Leon Jacob: My dad was an orthopedic surgeon, great father, always there. My mom was a wonderful woman -- great mother. We had a great family. Unfortunately, my dad died when I was 13 years old.
It was a crushing blow at a young age. To honor his father, Leon focused on one goal: becoming a surgeon just like him
Leon Jacob: I always wanted to be a doctor my whole life ever since I was about 3 or 4.
As he pursued his degrees, Leon met and married his college sweetheart. They had two boys.
Leon Jacob: We had a happy, loving family. …I got two boys … they're the most important things to me in my life.
A good family, and now with an M.D. after his name, Leon was well on his way.
But Leon's picture-perfect life disguised a troubled relationship. After 12 years of marriage, his wife filed for divorce, citing "extreme mental cruelty." And one year later, Leon was arrested for stalking his now-ex.
Samantha Knecht: Leon has to be in control … when his ex-wife went to end their relationship he wasn't gonna have it -- and he wasn't gonna go down without a fight.
Peter Van Sant: Leon, isn't it true that you've had brushes with the law involving stalking, cyberstalking, intimidation—physical harassment, assault? Aren't all those true?
Leon Jacob: I pled guilty to an attempted cyber harassment charge that was stemming from an acrimonious divorce that I went through with my previous wife.
Leon admits that he called often, but he says it was simply speak with his boys.
Leon Jacob: I tried desperately to contact my kids over and over again. I'm not gonna apologize for that.
Leon finally moved on to a new residency, and was living in Pittsburgh, where he met 33-year-old Meghan Verikas.
Leon Jacob: I met Meghan in a hotel -- in Pittsburgh … She was the assistant general manager there.
The new couple moved to Houston. Lavish vacations and family get-togethers soon followed, as did yet another residency, Leon's seventh.
Samantha Knecht: He's a failed doctor... He's been kicked out of every residency program he's ever been a part of. …in fact, one of the records that we found said that they believe that he was a danger to the patients and that he would be a liability to keep around.
Three years into their relationship, Meghan Verikas thought Leon was a threat to her, too. Meghan kicked Leon out of their apartment, later accusing him of assaulting her.
Leon Jacob: She wanted me to move all my stuff out … she came there and was very hostile. The police were called. There was no violence of any kind. …And a day later, she claimed that I had hit her.
Peter Van Sant: And that you'd put a hand over her mouth.
Leon Jacob: Yeah, which is not true.
Samantha Knecht: Leon is about Leon as it frustrated him to no end that Meghan Verikos would not forgive him … and the fact that he couldn't get Meghan back frustrated him and angered him.
Leon was arrested in February 2007 for assault and stalking.
Peter Van Sant: Do you have a personality disorder … that when a woman rejects you … you get violent? You get nasty? You stalk? You intimidate? Your harrass with social media?
Leon Jacob: You are assuming that I was physically violent … I wasn't … you can charge anybody with anything; it doesn't mean that you're guilty of that.
Guilty? No. But prosecutors are convinced that Leon knew his future as a doctor would be destroyed if Meghan testified against him. So, they believe, he planned a little operation to make his pain go away.
Samantha Knecht: He feels like if Meghan disappears … that his criminal case will go away, and he can resume his career as this beloved surgeon that he thinks that he is.
Prosecutors claim Leon decided what he needed was a hit man.
Moataz Azzeh: He was a dangerous man. He is a dangerous man. …He actually ultimately wanted to kill.
Moataz "Taz" Azzeh -- he's the man Leon was convinced was a hit man. Taz, now at the center of this shocking case, is speaking publically for the first time.
Peter Van Sant: Did Leon ever tell you how he wanted his ex-girlfriend to be killed?
Moataz Azzeh: Yes … he actually -- offered suggestions. One of 'em was a syringe to the heart with potassium, to give her a heart attack and would actually kill her.
Peter Van Sant: He didn't wanna have a gunshot … He wanted a needle?
Moataz Azzeh: He wanted to do it himself … he was into it.
Peter Van Sant: Who is Moataz Azzeh?
Leon Jacob: He was a private investigator that I had consulted with. That's all I'm gonna say about that.
The two men were introduced by a mutual acquaintance. Taz thought it might be a chance to make some money.
Peter Van Sant: Taz, are you a hit man?
Moataz Azzeh: No.
Peter Van Sant: Were you ever willing to murder anyone for money?
Moataz Azzeh: No, no. No. I would never do something like that.
Taz is actually a decorated former U.S. Army soldier, who was wounded fighting in Iraq when his Humvee ran over a roadside bomb in 2005.
Moataz Azzeh [shows medal]: This one is the Purple Heart.
Peter Van Sant: So you're a hell of a soldier?
Moataz Azzeh: I was a soldier ... I am a soldier…
Now, over a decade later and a world away, Taz says Leon Jacob's deadly demand gave him a new mission: not to kill, but to save a life.
Moataz Azzeh: I saw somebody in danger and I knew that I can do somethin' about it and I did something about it.
Taz claims Leon thought he was hit man willing to kill Meghan Verikas. His code name was "Zach."
Peter Van Sant: What did Leon Jacob say to you when you first met face-to-face?
Moataz Azzeh: He's like, "I want you to actually -- kidnap her. Take her to a hotel and take me to her. And I wanna talk to her and … get her back."
Peter Van Sant: Taz claims that you told him … to … kidnap … your ex-girlfriend.
Leon Jacob: Not gonna comment on that.
Moataz Azzeh: "… and if that doesn't work, what are you gonna do?" …He's like, "Then I'm gonna ask her to leave."
Leon Jacob: Completely false.
Moataz Azzeh: And … I was like, "If she doesn't leave, what are you gonna do?" And he was like, "I want you to kill her."
Leon Jacob: I'm not gonna comment on any of this. It's just ridiculous.
What's not ridiculous though is the $9,000 Taz -- now "Zach" -- says Leon paid him for the job.
Moataz Azzeh: I actually … spent that money. …I needed to keep appearance … To be honest, I don't feel bad that I spent Jacob's money. Matter of fact, I feel really good that I spent his money [nervous laughter].
He spent the money and disappeared into thin air with Meghan still very much alive. A desperate Leon visited the one man he's sure could hunt down his hit man: bail bondsman Michael Kubosh.
Michael Kubosh: Leon Jacob-- was one of the most unique-- individuals I'd ever met.
Michael Kubosh: This guy was focused … was very intimidating … didn't shake my hand, never greeted me, just wanted to know one thing. "I want Zach's number." …He said, "I've paid Zach a lot of money to take care of this." I felt like I was talking to the devil himself.
AN ELABORATE STING
Tucked away on a side street in Houston is perhaps the most colorful bail bondsman in all of Texas.
Peter Van Sant: Having hung out a bit with you, you are the Elvis of bail bondsmen.
Michael Kubosh: [Laughs].
His name is Michael Kubosh and he understands the criminal mind.
Michael Kubosh: I deal with the nicest, the kindest and the meanest people on the face of the earth. I've bonded out judges, prostitutes, preachers, missionaries."
He's also a larger-than-life member of the Houston City Council, who helped save lives during Hurricane Harvey.
Michael Kubosh: I know all the major law enforcement people in -- in the whole county.
So, for a man who has seen it all, Kubosh is still gobsmacked when describing the day Leon Jacob came barreling into his office demanding he find his hit man Taz, who Leon still knew as "Zach."
Michael Kubosh: He looked very, very serious at me, didn't shake my hand, never greeted me, just wanted to know one thing. "I want Zach's number."
Leon Jacob told Kubosh that he was looking for a client of his, a man named "Zach" who was out on bail. The name didn't ring a bell with Kubosh, but what Leon said next did set off an alarm.
Michael Kubosh: He said, "I've paid Zach a lot of money to take care of this." "To take care of what?" He said, "I want her out of the picture. And – and -- and the -- I-- she can't be testifyin' against me."
Peter Van Sant: Out of the picture.
Michael Kubosh: Out of the picture. …I believed that he meant ill toward this woman. …And that's why I called the chief…
Peter Van Sant: The chief of?
Michael Kubosh: The chief of police in Houston, Texas.
A search for the mysterious "Zach" was triggered, and investigators quickly learned his real name, Moataz "Taz" Azzeh. It was a name that Kubosh did recognize as a former military man who was facing a misdemeanor theft charge for stealing from his roommate.
Michael Kubosh: He was on bond with me. He was still free.
It took Houston police about a week to find Taz, and that's when things got really interesting.
Peter Van Sant: Do you believe Taz Azzeh is a hit man?
Det. Javier: No, I don't believe that at all. …He's a good guy in my eyes.
Detective "Javier" is an undercover officer with the Houston Police Department.
Det. Javier: To me Taz seemed genuinely concerned for Meghan. He didn't wanna see her hurt.
So Taz agreed to participate in a sting operation, to help catch Leon Jacob in the act of soliciting a murder:
Moataz Azzeh [on the phone]: Hey, what's up man.
Leon Jacob: How you doing buddy?
Taz told Leon that he felt he had grown too close to him and Valerie McDaniel, and thought it best to hire another hit man. And he knew just the right guy:
Moataz Azzeh: Can you can meet tomorrow?
Leon Jacob: Yeah, I will clear my schedule. No problem.
The next day, Taz would introduce Leon to his new hit man -- undercover Detective Javier. But before Taz could hang up, Leon dropped a bomb:
Leon Jacob [On the phone]: OK, you are gonna take care of both problems right?
Moataz Azzeh: Alright.
Nathan Moss | Harris County Assistant D.A.: He says, "You're gonna take care of both problems, right?"
Leon Jacob: [On the phone]: We're taking care of both problems?
Moataz Azzeh: What problems?
Leon Jacob: Both of the individuals we are talking about.
Moataz Azzeh: Ah, OK.
Assistant District Attorney Nathan Moss was stunned.
Nathan Moss: They hang up the phone and Taz is like, "Oh yeah, there's this Valerie McDaniel girl."
Valerie McDaniel -- Leon's new girlfriend, the mild mannered veterinarian who friends had described as an angel -- wanted her ex-husband murdered.
Leon Jacob [On the phone]: Valerie wants to talk to you about what she wants done with her ex-husband.
Moataz Azzeh: OK that's good … just bring her with you tomorrow.
The next day, Leon and Valerie met with Taz and Detective Javier at an Olive Garden restaurant to discuss the fate of both their exes over lunch.
Det. Javier: …the entire operation was recorded.
The meeting lasted nearly two hours and began with Leon's target: Meghan:
Leon Jacob: I don't want her hurt, but I want her to go.
Det. Javier: He told me that he wanted me to run her off the road and threaten her… But then … he would say to me, "If she does not understand that, then you do what you have to do."
Leon Jacob: If those options don't work, I don't give a f--- …then you gotta do what you gotta do…I need her gone…
Det. Javier: There was no doubt in my mind that Leon wanted Meghan killed.
The subject then turned to Valerie's target: her ex-husband, Mack McDaniel:
Valerie McDaniel: Let's say if something were to happen to him, would it be like a car wreck?
Det. Javier: It could be a car wreck. It could be a robbery gone wrong.
Det. Javier: She was under the belief that I was going to carjack him … and I was going to put a bullet in his head, which is exactly what I told her I was going to do.
Det. Javier: But you need to give me the go ahead. Want to do that?
Valerie McDaniel: What other option do I have? He's going to take my daughter.
Peter Van Sant: Is that where she crossed the line?
Det. Javier: Absolutely.
The plan was set. At Leon's insistence, Meghan would go first.
Det. Javier: But … later that night Valerie and Mack got into a verbal argument over their daughter. So Leon called me on the telephone that same night and he told me, "Whatever plan that you made with Valerie, has to happen quick."
Leon Jacob [phone call]: This has got to be f------ fixed.
Det. Javier: No, no well take care of it.
Peter Van Sant: So Mack went to the front of the line?
Det. Javier: Mack went to the front of the line.
The next day, March 9, 2017, Detective Javier called Leon to say he had "good" news that he insisted on delivering in person. So, Leon and Valerie invited their hit man into their home, where he tried to show them a shocking photo of Mack -- who appeared dead from a gunshot wound to the head. What they didn't know is that Mack was alive and well, and participating in this elaborate sting operation.
Peter Van Sant: When Valerie got the news that her husband was dead, was she emotional about it? Did she say, "Oh my God, I never wanted to go this far?"
Det. Javier: She did not show that. She excused herself immediately. …And I asked Leon if he wanted to see a picture, and he told me that he did not wanna see a picture.
Peter Van Sant: So neither of them ever saw the picture?
Det. Javier: They never wanted to see a picture.
Believing Mack was dead, Leon set his sights back on Meghan:
Leon Jacob: So you're gonna snatch her and you're bring her somewhere and talk to her.
Det. Javier: That's the plan.
Leon Jacob: If I need to show up, you call me.
Later that night, staged photographs of Meghan were texted to Leon.
He was told she was so out of control, she had to be killed:
Det. Javier: She's dead. She's gone.
Leon Jacob: I don't want to know anything.
Peter Van Sant: On that scale of good to evil, in your mind what is Leon Jacob?
Det. Javier: Leon is a very evil person. …he was willing to do whatever he needed to do to survive. He would -- step over everybody.
Peter Van Sant: And kill anyone?
Det. Javier: And kill anyone.
A SURREAL SCENE
Nathan Moss | Harris County Assistant D.A.: Oftentimes, if your loved one is found murdered, Houston Police Department will come and give you notice of the death.
Sgt. Frank Quinn | Houston Police Dept.: It was probably around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning.
On March 10, 2017, Valerie McDaniel and her live-in boyfriend, Leon Jacob, get a wake-up call from Sergeant Frank Quinn that will soon lead to an Oscar-winning performance.
Valerie McDaniel: [Opens door to police]: What's going on?
Samantha Knecht | Harris County Assistant D.A.: She lets them inside but she feigns surprise. She can't understand why they're there.
Remember, just hours before, Detective Javier, posing as a hit man, had told her that Mack was dead. Now, Valerie has to convince police she is hearing it for the first time:
Sgt. Frank Quinn: Sorry to have to tell you. Have you heard from him recently?
Peter Van Sant: Why are you doing this? Why aren't you getting right to the point? Why are you doing the death notification first?
Sgt. Frank Quinn: If they really wanna come forward, and they really wanna be honest, that would be the time to do it.
Samantha Knecht: She pretends to be upset. She puts her head in her hands. She sits down and acts like she's completely shocked and surprised that her ex-husband is dead.
Sgt. Frank Quinn: Is your boyfriend here? I think he can be a little help to us now. You might want to let him know.
The surreal scene, caught by the body cameras of Houston police, is about to reach its climax:
Sgt. Frank Quinn We were hoping you could help us. We have some bad news. Her ex-husband was killed…
Leon Jacob: Oh my God!
Sgt. Frank Quinn: …in a robbery gone wrong.
Leon Jacob: Holy s---!
Sgt. Frank Quinn: We want to see if anyone knows anything.
Leon Jacob [puts his arms around Valerie]: Are you OK, baby?
Peter Van Sant: She's playing the grieving widow. He's playing the sympathetic, loving boyfriend.
Nathan Moss: Yes.
Then Leon does something that would have made him a suspect even if he hadn't been one already. He volunteers an alibi:
Leon Jacob: We've been here all night. We've been here all day. We've been watching movies. We haven't been out of the house all day.
Sgt. Frank Quinn: … if they do offer an alibi when they're not asked, that does arouse everybody's suspicions.
Police let the bad acting go on a little longer:
Leon Jacob: I lost my father when I was young. I'm a doctor here, too, in town. She's a veterinarian.
Then, the cops call "cut!"
Sgt. Frank Quinn: Right now we're gonna read you your rights…
Leon Jacob: Me?
Sgt. Frank Quinn: …because you're both being arrested for solicitation of capital murder.
It is only then that the couple learns that both their intended targets are alive and well.
Det. Javier: I walked into the condo and Valerie had her face in her hands … and she looked up and saw me and her face dropped, her jaw dropped and she was in shock.
Valerie goes quiet, but Leon can't seem to stop talking …
Leon Jacob: Can I call a lawyer now?
Leon Jacob: I have no underwear on. Can I get some underwear? …I don't know why I'm being arrested.
Even as Valerie and Leon are separated to be transported and booked, Leon keeps thinking about Leon:
Leon Jacob: I need my glasses … I wear eyeglasses … I need my sweatshirt. I'm already cold.
Leon is led out and Valerie has a much bigger concern: her daughter who's been asleep in the apartment this whole time. Although not caught on camera, Mack McDaniel, alive and well, arrives to pick up their 8-year-old.
Peter Van Sant: What did Valerie say to her?
Sgt. Frank Quinn: She -- you know, something along the lines, "I'm just -- taking you – to -- your daddy's outside and he's gonna take ya." And it was very benign and, you know, just normal as could be.
Sgt. Frank Quinn [leading Valerie out of her apartment]: We did the best we could for your daughter.
For Valerie, the animal lover, it was not the ending to the week she planned for her daughter:
Officer: You don't have any animals? You do? What do you have?
Valerie McDaniel: Three cats and a dog.
Officer: Where are they at?
Valerie McDaniel: We were supposed to go to New York for spring break. They're boarded at the clinic.
Michael Kubosh | Bail bondsman: And so all of the sudden on the news media came the arrest of two doctors.
Greg Holloway | Valerie's friend: I'm laying there thinking "Well, that's not the Valerie I know." And they showed the film of her going up for her arraignment.
Peter Van Sant: Did you about fall out of your chair?
Greg Holloway: Almost rolled outta the bed!
Because Leon has those other charges related to Meghan Verikas pending, he doesn't make bail. But Valerie does and goes home to wait for the legal process to play out.
Dr. Brittany King | Valerie's coworker: I remember texting her throughout the week, you know, and calling her and constantly sending her "I love you, you can get through this, so happy you're out."
Valerie's veterinary license got suspended because of the charges. Brittany King says the clinic staff met with Valerie at her high-rise condo to plan the future.
Peter Van Sant: Was it an emotional time when all of you got together this first time after she got out of jail?
Dr. Brittany King: Oh, absolutely. I mean, there were tears. … "What does this all mean?"
While the vet clinic would live on, King says Valerie would "help in the back … with laboratory things."
King says Valerie was weighed down by her arrest, and the prospect she wouldn't be seeing her daughter for a long, long time.
Dr. Brittany King: I remember giving her a hug goodbye at the end. And I just felt the life in her eyes was not there.
Humiliated and ashamed, Valerie knew everything she had worked for and dreamed of was gone.
VALERIE MCDANIEL AUDIO DIARY: I miss my daughter so much. And I miss Leon. ...I'm just not strong enough. I wish I were. I just can't do it. Just can't do it
A TRAGIC ENDING
VALERIE MCDANIEL AUDIO DIARY: Try not to judge me. I've always tried to be an honest, kind person.
Two weeks after the shock and shame of being charged with solicitation of capital murder, Valerie McDaniel used her iPad to record her side of the story:
VALERIE MCDANIEL AUDIO DIARY: It's weird. Things -- it wasn't like bam, bam, bam, a progression. Things just gradually happened. …I didn't wake up one day and just say, "Hey, I wanna kill my ex-husband."
In the 90 minute recording, made over several days, Valerie lashes out at Mack:
VALERIE MCDANIEL AUDIO DIARY: He was a narcissist, a psychotic narcissist in every sense of the word.
Detective Javier: I believe … she made him seem a lot worse than … he was.
Mack's attorney says he does not intend to speak publicly about the case, and is focused solely on the emotional well-being and physical safety of his daughter. For Valerie, everything she loved was slipping away:
VALERIE MCDANIEL AUDIO DIARY: I have three great loves in my life. I have my daughter. I have Leon. And I have my work.
Two days after her final recording, on March 27, 2017, Valerie -- who once seemed unstoppable -- did the unthinkable. She climbed over the railing of her apartment balcony and jumped seven stories to her death.
KHOU NEWS REPORT: Today the woman accused in the plot committed suicide…
Leon Jacob: I was shocked. It was really upsetting. …She wanted me to be home with her and that, you know, we were gonna get through this. …It was devastating and shocking.
Peter Van Sant: Do you believe, in a way, she was confessing, that she had been involved in this murder-for-hire plot?
Cody Bernard | Valerie's cousin: Yes, I do believe that [pauses], yeah.
VALERIE MCDANIEL AUDIO DIARY: I'm not doing this because of guilt of the accusations. Because in my heart I knew I would never hurt him. It just got out of control.
Samantha Knecht |Harris County Assistant D.A.: I think that she was in a very vulnerable position when she met Leon Jacob. …but I think he influenced her and brainwashed her.
Nathan Moss | Harris County Assistant D.A.: She was absolutely guilty of solicitation of capital murder. She agreed to it, she spoke with the undercover. She knew exactly what she was asking for. …and she was asking for him to die.
Peter Van Sant: Is true that Valerie McDaniel, in her condo, after her arrest, told one of the officers basically, yes I did do this.
Det. Javier: That is correct. Valerie gave a confession. She gave a full confession Valerie McDaniel is definitely guilty. …But … I also believe that Leon was the mastermind.
Peter Van Sant: For those who believe … I'm looking into the eyes of essentially a killer, someone who was going to hire a hit man to kill his ex-girlfriend. What do you want those people to know?
Leon Jacob: I'm innocent and as a human being and as a physician, that thought of killing somebody else is, just goes against everything in my nature.
Leon has hired one of the top defense attorneys in Texas, George Parnham, who says Valerie McDaniel was the one calling all the shots.
George Parnham: I am -- am sorry for her demise. But … I believe that Valerie -- is and was responsible for this entire scenario.
Peter Van Sant: That she was the driver? …she was the financier of all of this?
George Parnham: That is my understanding.
And Parnham says that Valerie's own words -- including those police undercover tapes -- actually help Leon.
George Parnham: At no time in any of her statements … I'm led to believe never, never incriminates or suggests that Leon is part of this whole scenario in which she was charged with solicitation of capital murder.
Leon Jacob [arrest video]: I don't know why I am being arrested…
It's an accusation embraced by Leon, who has now turned on the woman who loved him so.
Peter Van Sant: Your attorney said, "If you'd never met Valerie McDaniel, you would not be in this jail today."
Leon Jacob: [Exhales] It's probably true.
Michael Kubosh: Well, I think it's always good to shift the blame to somebody that can't defend themselves. And somebody that's dead.
Peter Van Sant: Leon does have a criminal history. …He's faced charges of domestic violence, aggravated stalking, intimidation, cyberstalking … Why shouldn't we believe that this man who couldn't control Meghan Verikas made the final attempt to control her by wanting her dead?
George Parnham: Our standard is beyond a reasonable doubt.
Sadly, Valerie is no longer here to defend herself or watch her daughter grow up.
After her death, her friends and family held a memorial service in front of her beloved vet clinic.
It's where Brittany King first read this tribute to her friend:
Dr. Brittany King: "I pray you're at peace now. …You were a colleague, a loving friend, a mentor, an inspiration, a teacher, and a healer." … [Crying] It's really sad. Life is too short.
Leon Jacob will stand trial for solicitation of murder in December 2017
Valerie's daughter inherited her estate and now lives with her father, Mack McDaniel.
Taz Azzeh accepted a plea deal in his theft case and is currently on probation. He hopes to become a Houston Police officer.