Appellate lawyers argue that Harris County botched murder-for-hire trial

A lawyer for a failed Houston doctor convicted of conspiring to have his ex-girlfriend and his then-girlfriend’s ex-husband murdered argued Wednesday that his trial did not link the would-be victims to their initials in the criminal indictment.

The indictment against 41-year-old Leon Jacob listed the targets of his murder-for-hire plot by their initials. The name M.V. stood for Jacob’s ex-girlfriend Meghan Verikas, while M.M. was the initials for Marion McDaniel, the ex-husband of Jacob’s girlfriend, Valerie McDaniel, a popular Montrose veterinarian who killed herself soon after her arrest in the case.

Jacob was convicted of paying an undercover Houston police officer who posed as a hit man to kill Verikas and McDaniel. Both were identified by their full name in news accounts of the weeklong trial in March 2018.

“I don’t know who the individuals were as alleged in the indictment because it’s just initials,” said Scott Shearer, an appellate lawyer who was not part of Jacob’s criminal case.

“M.M. could be anything. It could be Mickey Mouse,” Shearer said in front of Chief Justice Kem Thompson Frost in the 14th Court of Appeals.

Shearer said he went through court transcripts and never found a hint that M.M. was McDaniel or M.V. was Verikas. He pointed out the presumed oversight to Frost in an attempt to overturn Jacob’s life sentence for solicitation of capital murder.

“Surprisingly, during the trial — and I’ve never seen this happen before — there was no evidence ever to connect the initials with either of the complaining witnesses. It was very unusual,” Shearer said after the hearing.

An appeals filing on Monday goes into depth about the initials, despite having misspelled…

Texts show parents ‘disappointed’ by teen son accused in their killings

A Houston teen standing trial in the slayings of his parents was in hot water with them in the months leading up to the killings, repeatedly being disciplined over grades and dishonesty, according to text messages revealed in court Wednesday.

Text exchanges between Antonio Armstrong, Jr., his mother and his father showed a teen who was frequently explaining his actions when he was caught bending the truth. His parents weren’t shy in expressing their disappointment.

“He is a bold face liar like I have never seen before,” Dawn Armstrong said in a text to her son and husband, after she found out he was untruthful about being at basketball practice.

Dawn Armstrong and her husband, Antonio Armstrong, Sr., were found shot to death in their beds on July 29, 2016. Their son, who also goes by A.J., was charged with capital murder. He was 16 at the time and was certified to be tried as an adult.

The texts spanned from the fall of 2015 to July 2016. On multiple occasions, Armstrong’s parents called him out for poor grades or spending too much money.

He got grounded once over not being home when he said he would, and another time his car privileges were taken away, according to the messages. Another time, Armstrong was caught lying about whether his girlfriend’s parents were present when he was over at her house.

On May 21, 2016, Dawn Armstrong texted her son and husband because she heard that A.J. was smoking marijuana in the house.

He said it was a vaporizer and that he got rid of it, and his parents continued to reprove him.

“Don’t come up with some creative story on how it appeared again,” his father texted.

On June 3, 2016, the couple confronted their son about…

Boykins delays measure to lay off 220 firefighters

A scheduled vote on whether to lay off 220 Houston firefighters has been delayed for a week after City Councilman Dwight Boykins opted to “tag” the item Wednesday.

The tag from Boykins, who in recent months increasingly has advocated on behalf of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, came days after Mayor Sylvester Turner said he would provide the fire union with financial data it has sought during negotiations over implementing raises required by passage of Proposition B.

The voter-approved amendment gives city firefighters equal pay to police officers of the same rank and correspondence. To pay for those raises, which the administration estimates would cost about $80 million a year if implemented immediately, Turner and Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña have said the department will need to cut hundreds of positions and restructure the department’s shift schedule.

Those layoffs could be avoided if the union agrees to phase in the pay raises, Turner and Peña have said.

Already, the city has sent pink slips to more than 100 firefighter cadets and municipal employees.

This story will be updated.