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Mistrial in Rabbi Murder Case

Courts: Jury was at an impasse after seven days of deliberations. New trial on charges of arranging wife's slaying is likely next year.


NEW YORK — A New Jersey judge declared a mistrial Tuesday in the trial of Rabbi Fred J. Neulander, who is accused of hiring a hit man to kill his wife. The decision came after the jury reported that it was at an impasse following seven days of intense but fruitless deliberations.

Superior Court Judge Linda G. Baxter dismissed the jury, and a new trial is likely to take place next year. The case, which was broadcast on Court TV, marked the first time an American rabbi had been charged with murder. It had been seen by many experts as a bellwether of how willing juries were to impose the death penalty on a member of the American clergy.

"Clearly we're relieved, but we're also disappointed that Mr. Neulander wasn't completely exonerated," said defense attorney Jeffrey Zucker. The rabbi himself, he added, "is relieved. . . . He's said all along that he is innocent of these murder charges, and that is what he has continued to say."

Prosecutors were tight-lipped about their plans, but Camden County Prosecutor Lee Solomon said: "It has been our determination that we will retry this as a capital [murder] case. We're still evaluating this."

Los Angeles Times Friday November 16, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Trial of rabbi--A Section A story Thursday about a mistrial in the case of a New Jersey rabbi accused of arranging his wife's murder quoted James Lynch, an assistant prosecuting attorney, but failed to include his first name and title.

The jury declared itself at an impasse last week, but then suddenly reversed itself and told Baxter they might be nearing a verdict. By Tuesday afternoon, however, they sent a second note declaring themselves deadlocked on all three counts of murder and conspiracy.

Neulander, 60, remained in custody pending a bail hearing. He has been in jail for 17 months, awaiting trial over a murder that caused a sensation in suburban Cherry Hill seven years ago.

The charismatic founder of a Reform congregation, Neulander and his wife, Carol, were seen as leaders of their community. Neulander admitted, however, that he had been carrying on affairs with several women in his congregation. When his wife was found brutally murdered in their home Nov. 1, 1994, police identified Neulander as a prime suspect.

During the trial, several people testified that Neulander hoped to get rid of his wife. Elaine Soncini, a Philadelphia talk radio show host, told the jury she had begun an affair with Neulander in 1992, two weeks after he presided at her husband's funeral. When she threatened to end it, Soncini said Neulander promised her they would "be together" by the end of 1994.

Neulander was arrested and charged with murder five years later, but the case against him remained largely circumstantial because there was no physical evidence or witness directly tying him to his wife's death.

That changed in May 2000, when Len Jenoff--a former private investigator who worked for the rabbi--confessed that he had killed Carol Neulander at Neulander's behest. He said he was promised $30,000 to kill her, and testified that he and an accomplice, Paul Michael Daniels, came to her home at night and bludgeoned her to death. Both men are awaiting sentencing.

During the trial, Zucker conceded that his client was "morally reprehensible" for cheating on his wife and betraying his family. But he argued that it was "a long way from adultery to murder."

Lynch, who subjected Neulander to a blistering cross-examination, argued that he was "a man who had it all . . . but it wasn't enough for him."

Jenoff was attacked by defense attorneys as a habitual liar, a man who made up stories about military exploits and past work for the CIA.

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