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Woman guilty in husband's killing

Convicted in the killing of her husband, Julia Marie Leacock faces a minimum recommended sentence of 27 years.

Her time in prison, however, could depend on whether she agrees to testify against the man accused of pulling the trigger.

A jury of three women and three men deliberated for 3{ hours Wednesday before finding Leacock guilty of being a principal to second-degree murder. She had faced a first-degree murder charge, which carries a mandatory life sentence.

The jury also found the 40-year-old guilty of criminal solicitation to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and accessory after the fact.

"It's a success over life in prison," said Sherri Taylor, Leacock's sister. "I'm not sure she fully understands. She seems to have been in a daze ever since (the killing) happened."

Leacock was accused of repeatedly asking her cousin, Samuel A. Coppola, to kill her husband _ the last time being only seconds before the shooting took place on March 19, 1997. His arms around a pillow, Steven Leacock appeared to have been sleeping at the family's double-wide mobile home on Moon Road when he was shot behind the left ear. Coppola's murder trial is tentatively set for June.

"Sammy Coppola committed this murder but he never would have committed the murder but for Julia Leacock," prosecutor Don Scaglione said in court.

The three-day trial included a 15-minute taped interrogation in which Leacock said, "I thought Steve would be better off dead."

During his closing argument, Scaglione referred several times to the tape, which even the defense attorney called damning. Scaglione also rehashed the testimony of one of the Leacocks' friends, who said Julia Leacock told him after the shooting that she had talked to Coppola about killing her husband.

The prosecutor then went on to point out the inconsistencies in Leacock's original statements to the authorities and what she said when she testified Tuesday.

"Everything she said (Tuesday) was manipulation to try to save herself," Scaglione told the jury.

Bud Hallman, who represented Leacock, told the jury that the prosecution had not proven his client intended in any way for her husband to be killed. The comments about her husband were made when she was angry, just like some people say "Go to hell," he said.

"Sammy was acting on his own. (My client) had no power to incite. No command, no control . . . (Sammy Coppola) did exactly what Sammy Coppola wanted to do," he said.

Hallman was disappointed with the verdict but thought the jury agreed with enough of his argument to convict on the lesser charge. He said an appeal will be filed on the grounds that Leacock did not make the taped statement voluntarily or that the evidence suggests Coppola acted independently.

Scaglione said he thought the appellate court would dismiss any appeal.

The recommended sentence for the four charges is about the same as Leacock would have received if she had agreed to a plea that Hallman tried to broker Tuesday. Hallman had asked Scaglione if he would agree to a plea of principal to second-degree murder. Scaglione, after consulting with the victim's family, agreed, but Leacock decided to continue with the trial.

Circuit Judge Richard Tombrink will sentence Leacock on June 11. Scaglione said the victim's family wants Leacock to spend more than the maximum of 44 years behind bars. Scaglione will research other cases to find out if that is possible.

The family felt betrayed by Leacock's lies _ a feeling compounded by her testimony on Tuesday, Scaglione said.

"Many people want someone to acknowledge their guilt before they can start forgiving," he said. "She hasn't done that."

Scaglione also has to consider whether to offer Leacock a sentencing deal in exchange for her testimony against Coppola. He is charged with premeditated first-degree murder and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Scaglione thinks he can convict Coppola without Leacock's help but said her testimony would strengthen the case. He couldn't say exactly what type of offer might be made.

Steven Leacock's father, Robert, said his former daughter in-law should spend a lot of time in prison. He wasn't too worried about the exact amount.

"This tore us up," he said. "I'm glad it's over.

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