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Cousin charged in slaying

Steven Leacock was asleep in his mobile home west of Brooksville early Wednesday when authorities say his wife's cousin put a bullet through the back of his head.

Samuel Augustus Coppola, 28, of 6451 Seabreeze Ave. in Weeki Wachee River Estates, was charged Thursday with first-degree murder after he said he shot Leacock with a 9mm handgun, Hernando sheriff's reports said.

Detectives said Leacock's wife found her 38-year-old husband in his bed at 13215 Moon Road, near Central High School, about 8:45 a.m. Wednesday. She ran to a neighbor's house, and authorities were notified. When sheriff's deputies arrived, they found Leacock clutching a pillow and with a gunshot wound to the head.

Coppola was arrested at his home about 5 a.m. Thursday. The motive for the shooting remained unclear, authorities said. Coppola was being held in the Hernando County Jail on Thursday without bail.

"This guy pulled the trigger, and this investigation continues," said Maj. G. Z. Smith of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. He said there may be more arrests in the case.

Julia Marie Leacock, 39, the victim's wife and Coppola's cousin, told authorities she was asleep in the house at the time of the shooting, which detectives estimate occurred about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday. She would not comment Thursday.

Neighbors said the couple had lived in the mobile home for several years and sometimes argued loudly in their front yard. They said Steven Leacock, who repossessed automobiles for a living, often would swear at his two sons and one daughter.

"I figured they'd either split up or . . .," said Veronica Dunn, who lives across the street from the Leacocks. "They're kind of a wild couple. He always carried a gun with him when he did his repossession work."

Dunn and other neighbors were not surprised to learn that a family member had been charged in Steven Leacock's death.

"We knew it had to be somebody who knew them because they had so many Rottweilers in the yard," she said.

According to a sheriff's report, Julia Leacock last saw her husband about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, just before he went to sleep in the couple's bedroom in the front of the home, which sits on a large, wooded lot off a limerock road.

Julia Leacock told authorities she and her husband did not sleep together because he had chronic back problems.

There were no signs of forced entry, Smith said.

Rhoda Stevens, who lives next door, said Julia Leacock knocked on her door about 9 a.m. Wednesday and asked for her son, Randy Stevens, who then returned with Mrs. Leacock to her home and called an ambulance.

"(Julia Leacock) seemed a little upset because when she wanted Randy, I knew something was wrong," Ms. Stevens said.

When deputies arrived, they found Steven Leacock lying on his right side in bed with blood-splattered sheets pulled up to his shoulders, sheriff's reports said.

No weapon was found at the Leacocks' home, but investigators said they later recovered a 9mm handgun and two more weapons at Coppola's home Thursday morning. They would not describe the other weapons.

Coppola was then brought to the Sheriff's Office, where he was questioned and said he shot Leacock.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Deanna Dammer said Coppola lived with Leacock's mother-in-law, Francis Murray, but neighbors contacted Thursday said they had never seen him around the house.

Coppola has no criminal history, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records.

Leacock served 8{ months in the Pinellas County Jail on drug charges in 1991. Also, in 1978, he was convicted of burglary.

_ Times researcher Carolyn Hardnett contributed to this report.