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Wife: "I thought Steve would be better off dead'

Julia Marie Leacock's chances of an acquittal seemed to fade Tuesday as jurors heard each passing minute of a taped interrogation.

The 40-year-old, accused in the killing of her husband, Steven, answered the questions quickly. Her tone was matter-of-fact.

"I thought Steve would be better off dead," she said on the 15-minute tape, recorded at the Sheriff's Office a day after the March 19, 1997, killing.

Leacock's attorney called the tape damning and tough to overcome. Bud Hallman and his client countered with what seemed to be the only ammunition left.

Leacock took the stand.

"She was able to clarify what she had said and convey her great feeling of guilt and remorse," Hallman said. "I think we made a bit of a comeback."

Hallman and his client had a lot to come back from.

Early during Tuesday's testimony, one of the Leacocks' friends testified that Julia Leacock told him after the shooting that she had talked to her cousin about killing her husband.

"I was stunned," Robert Berger testified. "I asked her to repeat it, and she repeated what she said almost verbatim."

The Spring Hill woman is accused of repeatedly asking Samuel A. Coppola to kill her husband _ the last time only seconds before the shooting took place. His arms around a pillow, Steven Leacock appeared to have been sleeping when he was shot behind the left ear. Coppola's murder trial is set for June.

Leacock is charged with being a principal to first-degree murder and three related offenses.

Prosecutor Don Scaglione also called Detective James Cameron to the stand.

He testified that Leacock changed her story several times and didn't mention that her cousin came to the home on the night of the killing until pressed during interviews.

With Cameron still on the stand, Scaglione started the tape.

Leacock explained how she, her husband and Coppola had several arguments. She said she had mentioned to Coppola that she and her three children would be better off if her husband died. Coppola went to Delaware, but when he returned he asked if Leacock still felt the same way about her husband. She said yes.

When he got access to a gun, he asked again if she wanted her husband to die. She again said yes.

The six jurors listened and also followed along with written transcripts. The courtroom grew quieter as the tape played on. Leacock's sister, sitting behind the defense table, began to cry.

Leacock explained what happened when Coppola came to the door of her double-wide mobile home on Moon Road.

"(Coppola) .

.

. wanted to know if I wanted to do it, to shoot Steve, and I said yes. And then seconds later, he went in there and I heard a gunshot," she said.

Scaglione rested his case.

After a short break, Leacock, wearing a conservative brown and floral dress, took the stand. She explained that she had made several statements about wanting her husband to die. The statements, however, were in jest, a response to things her husband had said during arguments. She did not mean for Coppola, who was present when she argued with her husband, to take the statements seriously.

She never promised Coppola any payment and never told him to kill her husband, she said.

Leacock also explained that she had 27 teeth pulled nine days before the shooting and was taking several medications. They made her drowsy, so when Coppola came by on the night of the shooting she was only half awake and couldn't react normally. She didn't turn Coppola in right away because he was "family."

Leacock, who began to weep, said her guilt drove her to make the statements on the tape.

"I wanted to be punished," she testified. "I was responsible because I went into shock. . . . My husband's life was taken, and I felt my life should be taken too."

Scaglione tore into her story during cross examination. Pointing to the inconsistencies in her past and current explanations, he got her to say that she lied at least a dozen times.

Leacock's future may depend on whether the jury believes the taped interview with detectives or her court testimony. Closing arguments begin this morning, and the six-person jury will likely return a verdict by the end of the day.

"Closings will be very important," Hallman said. "The jurors will have a lot to think about."

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