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First day of preliminary hearing in double-murder case exposes ‘toxic’ relationship

Crime Watch

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POCATELLO — A preliminary hearing began Tuesday for a Pocatello man accused of killing his estranged wife and her boyfriend.

Day one of what the court expects to be a three-day hearing regarding murder charges against Jesse Patrick Leigh, 40, exposed what several witnesses testified as a troubled relationship.

Leigh was initially charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of 41-year-old Jennifer Leigh and 21-year-old Timothy Hunt. Those charges were changed to murder, with an additional felony charge for discharging a firearm into an occupied building added.

RELATED | Man charged after allegedly killing estranged wife and her boyfriend

Officers with the Pocatello Police Department were dispatched to the Leigh home on the 4000 block of Philbin Road around 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 15 following a 911 call reporting gunshots.

When they arrived, officers found the dead man, later identified as Hunt, in the doorway of the home. Then, during a search of the home, they discovered Jennifer deceased in the master bedroom.

According to testimonies at Tuesday’s hearing, autopsies showed that both died by gunshot wounds. Hunt was shot three times in the back and arm, documents say. Jennifer was shot once near her left ear.

Officers from the Pocatello and Chubbuck police departments joined with Bannock County Sheriff’s deputies in the search for Leigh, who was eventually found at his mother’s Chubbuck home.

Prior to witness testimony, the prosecution played an interview with Leigh’s eight-year-old son. During the approximately one-hour interview, the boy, who was present at the time of the shooting, told the interviewer that he and his mother, Jennifer, forced their way into the home before Jennifer kicked his sleeping father awake. The boy said that Jesse responded by grabbing a gun and firing.

As he was fleeing the home, at the direction of Hunt, the boy said he heard five shots, and saw Hunt fall to the ground. While the boy told the interviewer that he heard five shots, evidence technicians located six shell casings at the scene.

Once outside, the boy ran to his mother’s car, which had been driven to the residence by a friend. The boy told the friend to run and they ran to a neighbor’s home.

Following the video, the prosecution called Jennifer’s 13-year-old daughter from another relationship to the stand.

The daughter described the relationship between her mother and step-father as “toxic,” saying the two were “always fighting.” She said that toxicity had grown over the final months of her mother’s life.

Also among the 11 witnesses called to the stand was a trio of Pocatello police officers, including two detectives who were part of the investigation.

Among them was Detective Rick Sampson, who accompanied the bodies to Boise for autopsy.

Jesse Patrick Leigh
Jesse Patrick Leigh and Bannock County Chief Public Defender David Martinez. | Kalama Hines,

According to Sampson, the single gunshot wound to Jennifer’s head showed a “stellate defect” — damage caused by the gas created inside the barrel of a gun at discharge.

Sampson testified that in order to cause such a wound the gun would need to be “within millimeters” of the victim at the time of firing.

Jesse’s mother and step-father were the last to testify Tuesday, describing Leigh’s demeanor when he arrived at their home after midnight on Oct. 16.

“He was in horrible condition,” his mother Judith Leigh recalled saying he was scared and crying.

Judith also testified to the “rocky” relationship between Leigh and Jennifer in the months leading up to the shootings.

“Toward the end, it was very bad. They fought all the time,” she said.

Judith also spoke of the discussion she had with Leigh when he informed her that Jennifer had started to date someone else, saying her son was “furious” about the news.

Asked if her son said anything to her when he woke her with his surprised arrival on Oct. 16, Judith said Leigh told her, “I killed Jenn.”

“Mom, I did something. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” he said according to Judith’s testimony.

Similarly, Leigh and Jennifer’s son, in his interview, said that his father had told him not to go inside the home once he came outside.

“I did bad stuff,” the boy said his father continued repeating.

Michael Smith, the neighbor who took the boy in and called 911, also recalled hearing Leigh say something similar to the boy.

Jessica Smith, Leigh’s neighbor and Michael’s wife, said she sat with Leigh’s son for hours as police investigated. She described wanting to disconnect herself form the incident until she found a bullet hole in the outer wall of her home from one of the shots Leigh had taken that night.

The bullet pierced the outer wall of her home, then went through an inner wall next to the bed where her son had been sleeping at the time of the incident.

“It was like two feet above my child’s head,” she said.

The questioning from both prosecution and defense appears to set on establishing the premeditation that would separate murder from manslaughter.

Questions by the defense team were directed at alcohol and drug use of both Leigh and Jennifer at the time of the incident, and whether Jennifer and her son broke into the home and startled Leigh, potentially triggering self-defense.

Among the witnesses scheduled to testify Wednesday is a member of the Ada County Forensic Pathologist’s Office.