PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 27 (JTA) — Rabbi Fred J. Neulander measures out his days reading and writing in a cramped but clean cell at the Camden County Correctional Facility overlooking the Delaware River in Camden, N.J.
“He’s doing all right,” Neulander’s attorney, Jeffrey Zucker, said as he sat outside Courtroom 33 at the Camden County Hall of Justice Dec. on 15.
Zucker was waiting for a hearing to begin before Judge Linda Rosenzweig on a defense motion to change the venue of Neulander’s upcoming trial for the murder of his wife, Carol.
“He spends a lot of time answering supportive letters, and that’s very gratifying to him. He has a lot of religious material sent in by several outside rabbis, so he’s continuing his Jewish studies,” Zucker said of Neulander.
“He’s also visited on a weekly basis by all three of his children,” he added. “His spirits are fairly high for one who is incarcerated.”
Then Zucker paused.
“It’s tough,” he acknowledged. “He shares a cell with another inmate. He gets along well with everyone. They do give him kosher meals, which I think is a little better than the usual prison fare. He’s making the best of a tough situation.”
Carol Neulander was found beaten to death in the family’s Cherry Hill home on Nov. 1, 1994. In 1998, Rabbi Neulander was arrested on charges of being an accomplice to murder and conspiring to commit murder.
In May, two alleged hit men — Leonard Jenoff and Paul Michael Daniels — came forward and confessed to the murder, alleging that Neulander hired them to kill his wife. In light of the confessions, a Camden County grand jury reindicted Neulander in June on charges of capital murder, felony murder and conspiracy, and the judge revoked his bail. Under the new charges, the 58-year-old rabbi could face the death penalty.
As the hearing got under way, Neulander, looking gaunt and gray, sat between Zucker and his other defense counsel, Dennis Wixted. Shackled hand and foot, with chains girding the waist of his orange prison jumpsuit, Neulander sat in silence. At times he leaned forward to brush his face with his cuffed hands; at times he just looked off into the distance, lost in his thoughts.
In addition to the change of venue motion, the court heard a defense motion to bar the state from presenting certain testimony of the Neulanders’ daughter, Rebecca.
Rebecca Neulander testified that her mother said to her, via cell phone, “Oh, this must be the package Daddy said to expect,” allegedly showing a link in Carol Neulander’s mind between her husband and the delivery man — now alleged to be Jenoff — who ultimately killed her.
Rosenzweig denied the motion, ruling that the alleged statement is admissible.
Wixted said that the deluge of publicity in the case — some 942 television reports and over 500 newspaper articles — was “tremendously prejudicial” to Neulander and necessitated a change of venue from Camden County.
“Even if the articles are not filled with invective and a hateful tone, the sheer number of articles in and of itself is prejudicial,” Wixted said.
Assistant Prosecutor James Lynch, however, countered that the coverage had been fair, “not a carnival-like atmosphere.”
Rosenzweig reserved her decision in the matter until she reviews the media reports, promising to decide before Jan. 19, the date of the next pretrial hearing.
Zucker said he does not expect the judge to grant the change of venue.
A change of venue “would certainly set an atmosphere for a fair and impartial trial,” he said, “but if it stays here, I’m confident of our defense. I think he’s going to be exonerated, whether it’s here or North Jersey.”