1. Archive

Wife planned killing, prosecutor tells jury

On March 19, 1997, Steven Leacock lay helpless in a back room of his double-wide mobile home when someone placed a 9mm pistol behind his left ear and pulled the trigger.

A trial began Monday at the Brooksville courthouse to determine if Leacock's wife planned the killing, even letting the shooter in.

Julia Marie Leacock, 40, of 6451 Sea Breeze Ave., Spring Hill, is charged with being a principal to first-degree murder and three other related charges. She faces life in prison if convicted.

In his opening statement, prosecutor Don Scaglione painted Julia Leacock as an estranged wife who repeatedly asked her cousin Samuel Augustus Coppola to kill her husband. Coppola's first-degree murder trial is tentatively set for June.

Scaglione said the evidence would prove that Coppola came to the trailer on Moon Road about 2 a.m. He asked Leacock if she still wanted to go through with the killing. She said yes.

Seconds later, Scaglione said, Coppola fired one shot from the gun he had taken from a friend. The bullet lodged in the pillow and the shell casing landed on the floor. On the way out he said, "It's done."

Julia Leacock didn't call 911. She sat on the couch for six hours, Scaglione said. She sent her three children off to school in the morning and made their beds. About 8:45 a.m. she ran next door and told a neighbor that something was wrong with her husband. After seeing the body, the neighbor called 911. Authorities arrived soon after.

The body was cold and stiff. There were no signs of forced entry and no gun in the mobile home.

"She proceeded to lie to everyone," Scaglione said.

At first Julia Leacock, who slept on the couch, told sheriff's deputies she awoke at 8:30 to find her husband dead in bed. She then changed her story, saying the blast woke her up and she saw her cousin leaving the home.

Coppola was arrested first. He told detectives Julia Leacock had asked him to kill her husband.

Julia Leacock's future may depend on her lawyer's ability to convince the jury that Coppola acted independently. During his opening statements and as he questioned one of the Leacocks' neighbors, Bud Hallman suggested that Coppola had his own reasons to kill Steven Leacock.

They had argued several times, and once Steven Leacock threw Coppola out of the mobile home, Hallman said.

Hallman told the jury his client was taking strong painkillers at the time of the shooting, which affected her ability to communicate clearly when Coppola came to the door.

He said the medicine also was the reason she took so long to go to her neighbor's for help.

"She was in a daze," he said. "She was barely awake."

The eight emergency workers who testified Monday said Julia Leacock did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they arrived at the mobile home. But under Hallman's cross examination, they admitted that intoxicated people don't always act intoxicated. Several also said they did not know how prescription drugs could affect people.

Julia Leacock, wearing a purple dress, appeared calm and conferred with Hallman during jury selection and at several times during the trial. Her leg shackles, which were not visible to the jury, clanked as she stood up during jury selection. Circuit Judge Richard Tombrink, not wanting the sound to influence the jury, asked a bailiff to tape the shackles in a way that would stifle the noise.

Monday's witnesses testified mostly to the basic facts of the case: what kind of gun was used and where and in what condition the body was found.

Today's testimony could include an interview of Julia Leacock that detectives taped. Hallman isn't worried about the tape. He again referred to the painkillers.

"It was not a statement of agreement," he said. "In the daze of the medication, she said yes when he came to the door. That is what she is referring to on the tape."

Testimony will continue most of the day. The six-member jury will likely begin deliberating Wednesday morning.