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Network's Calls to Rabbi's Jury Anger Judge

Sentencing hearing in murder-for-hire case is delayed. 'Good Morning America' telephoned members of the panel weighing death penalty.

November 22, 2002|From Associated Press

FREEHOLD, N.J. — The sentencing hearing for a rabbi convicted of having his wife killed was delayed for two hours Thursday as the judge angrily criticized the media for trying to contact the jury.

Superior Court Judge Linda Baxter closed the courtroom and polled jurors to find out who had contacted them.

"It is an outrage, frankly, that the media has so little respect for this court of law," Baxter said.

She said representatives of ABC's "Good Morning America" had called seven people on the panel. Saying none had responded to the inquiries, Baxter ordered the hearing to proceed, saying "ABC should consider itself to be warned."

Jeffrey W. Schneider, vice president of ABC News, said the bookers were not aware of the judge's order forbidding journalists from contacting jurors. They merely left messages, he said, and did not actually speak with any jurors.

" 'Good Morning America' is very blessed to have aggressive and excellent bookers and producers, and in this case they seem to have gotten a little ahead of themselves," Schneider said.

The same jury that convicted Rabbi Fred Neulander of hiring two men to kill his wife must now decide whether he should be executed or spend life in prison for the 1994 murder. His son Benjamin pleaded for his father's life on the stand Thursday.

The media have constantly been a part of the Neulander saga. One of the hit men first confessed to a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter more than two years ago. And during Neulander's first trial, which ended with a hung jury, a magazine journalist was fined after approaching a juror during deliberations.

After the first trial, four reporters from the Inquirer were sanctioned for publishing the names of jurors and three were sanctioned for seeking interviews. They are appealing their fines and community service sentences.

Neulander, 61, was convicted Wednesday of capital murder, felony murder and conspiracy in the killing of Carol Neulander, 52, in their suburban Philadelphia home.

Prosecutors say he hired two men to kill her in order to pursue an affair with a Philadelphia radio personality.

The hit men are both awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to aggravated manslaughter.

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