A veterinarian and her boyfriend in Houston, Texas, are accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill their exes, in a "bizarre" murder-for-hire
The couple met with the hit man at an Olive Garden in Houston. The plan was to kill her ex-husband in a car-jacking gone awry — while his ex-girlfriend would be kidnapped, and then killed.
They were willing to pay thousands of dollars. There was only one problem: The man they were meeting was actually an undercover police officer.
Valerie McDaniel, 48, and 39-year-old Leon Jacob — reportedly a “prominent” Houston veterinarian and her boyfriend — were charged on Friday with solicitation of capital murder, both accused of hiring the fake hit man to kill their exes.
They face five years-to-life in prison if convicted.
“The whole thing is bizarre,” says prosecutor Tom Berg, first assistant at the Harris County Assistant District Attorney Office.
He described for PEOPLE the above series of accusations: the couple’s alleged Olive Garden meeting, the payment and the individual details of each proposed hit.
Berg also explained how Jacob and McDaniel were caught, with the help of the exes they had allegedly plotted to kill.
McDaniel was released Monday on $50,000 bail. She was ordered to stay away from the 8-year-old daughter she shares with her ex, who was the target of her alleged scheme. Jacob was denied bail and remains behind bars.
Both have pleaded not guilty.
“The district attorney thinks there was sufficient probable cause to charge her, but it clearly appears that she wasn’t on any of the investigators’ radar until the very end of the process,” McDaniel’s attorney, Matt Alford, tells PEOPLE.
“She was brought to a meeting, it appears, at the end,” Alford says. He claims, “Mr. Jacob was clearly involved in it before her.”
While prosecutors reportedly argued in court that McDaniel was a willing participant — and is in “no way” a victim — Alford says otherwise.
“I’m wondering myself what kind of spell was potentially cast. Who knows, at this point,” he says. “We are going to figure all that out though.”
Jacob’s attorney didn’t return calls for comment.
Berg says the alleged murder-for-hire plan first came to light on Feb. 23, after investigators with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office were tipped off that Jacob was allegedly trying to have his ex-girlfriend killed in order to prevent her from testifying against him in a pending felony stalking case.
Police say they discovered that Jacob had allegedly brokered a deal with a man to pay him $15,000 for the hit.
Jacob had allegedly already paid the man $10,000 and given him two Cartier watches as collateral until he coughed up the remaining $5,000, according to authorities.
Jacob even allegedly suggested, at one point, that he could administer a “fatal dose” of potassium to his ex after she was kidnapped, Berg tells PEOPLE.
But the man he’d hired agreed to work with police instead.
Last Wednesday, the police informant and an undercover Houston police officer posing as a hit man met with Jacob and McDaniel at the Olive Garden.
“As they discussed [the hit on Jacob’s ex], then McDaniel said she had an ex husband she wanted to do in as well,” Berg claims.
McDaniel allegedly agreed to pay $10,000 for the hit on her ex-husband.
“She wanted a car-jacking,” Berg claims. “That is what they discussed.”
As for her possible motive, Berg says, “I don’t know if we can infer what her motive is other than [she and her ex-husband] had an acrimonious divorce last year.”
“They have an 8-year-old daughter, and as I understand it was a contentious battle over custody,” he says.
In the interim, Houston police had notified the two exes of the alleged plot. They both agreed to cooperate with police and stage photos of their deaths.
The day after the Olive Garden meeting, the undercover officer brought back “proof” that the attacks were carried out.
Authorities say he showed the couple fake photos of McDaniel’s ex dead and Jacob’s ex bound and gagged, at McDaniel’s seventh-floor apartment in the upscale Houston neighborhood of River Oaks.
“They didn’t want to see the photos,” Berg says, alleging, “They were reluctant to see the result of their handiwork.”
Houston police officers went to McDaniel’s apartment later that night — as part of the ruse — to tell her that her ex had been killed.
She broke into sobs, according to authorities, and then officers arrested her and Jacob.
McDaniel graduated with a degree in veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University in 1997, according to her vet clinic. She has owned the Montrose Veterinary Clinic, in Houston, since 2000.
“She and her daughter live with their two dogs, Peyton and Emaline, their cat Embree, and their Illiger Macaw Grover,” according to the the clinic’s website. “Dr. McDaniel spends her free time cooking, reading and relaxing on the water.”
Alford says McDaniel has received a lot of support since the arrest. “I have had 20 calls already from people saying, ‘Whatever you need’ as far as character. This is not in her character. I know her. I have known this woman my whole life. People are lining up around the court house to speak on her behalf.”
Jacob’s personal and professional history is more checkered: He said on Facebook that he studied at Saint George’s University School of Medicine in Granada, West Indies. But the Houston Chronicle reports that in 2010 he was removed from a Baylor College of Medicine residency program for undisclosed reasons.
Jacob later became a resident at a hospital in Youngstown, Ohio, but was dismissed in 2011 after supervisors found him “an immediate threat to patient safety,” the Chronicle reports.
Supervisors also “found he lacked … professionalism, punctuality, ethics and honesty,” according to the paper. And one supervisor discovered he left a patient unattended after a surgery.
Harris County records show Jacob was arrested and accused of domestic violence, violating a protective order, aggravated stalking, intimidation/physical harm and cyberstalking in 2014.
And, in February, he was charged with assaulting his ex-girlfriend, stalking her, following her and sending her harassing emails and texts after they broke up in January, court records show.
Jacob’s next court appearance is March 23. McDaniel is scheduled to appear in court on March 28.