Patrons at a Jewish deli here weren’t convinced by Rabbi Fred Neulander’s testimony this week that he played no role in the 1994 murder of his wife.
But many of those same customers believe that the inconsistent testimony by jailhouse snitches and the two confessed hit men — one of whom is a self-confessed liar, the other a drug and alcohol abuser — have created enough doubt that Neulander probably won’t be sent to jail.
Neulander faces the death penalty if found guilty of hiring a hit man to kill his wife, Carol, in November 1994.
“I think he did it,” said George Rosenthal, of Marlton, N.J. “Although with the witnesses yesterday, the convicts, I don’t know. It’s like a TV movie, surreal.”
He was referring to jail inmates David Beardsley and James Keeny.
“The jail guys yesterday threw a kink into the whole thing,” said David Greenbaum of Cherry Hill, N.J. “I think the rabbi did it. I think he’s also going to get off now.”
Beardsley and Keeny testified that admitted hit man Leonard Jenoff, whom they met in jail, told them on separate occasions that he and Paul Michael Daniels had killed the rabbi’s wife, and that Neulander wasn’t involved at all.
Earlier, Jenoff had testified that he killed Carol Neulander after her husband had promised him $30,000 and a chance to work for Mossad, Israel’s spy agency.
Jenoff later admitted in court that he often lies to make himself look better
As Neulander’s attorney, Dennis Wixted, went over Jenoff’s testimony statement by statement, Neulander denied everything.
“I couldn’t” help him get into the Mossad, Neulander testified. “I have no idea how. It’s a terrifically secret organization.”
After his wife’s murder, Neulander resigned his post as spiritual leader of Congregation M’Kor Shalom, one of the largest congregations in southern New Jersey.
When he testified in his own behalf Tuesday, Neulander confirmed that he had affairs with two former congregants, talk show host Elaine Soncini and another woman named Robin Gross.
“I was selfish and arrogant, and I went beyond the bounds of marriage,” Neulander testified. He added that he had “betrayed” many people in addition to his wife — from his three adult children to members of his congregation.
“Carol’s business was very successful. My synagogue was moving very, very well, and quite frankly, that took up a tremendous amount of our lives. We began to have separate focuses,” Neulander said.
“The part that suffered the most was the intimacy,” he said, noting that the couple had “very, very infrequent sex.”
The Neulanders, who had been married for 29 years, agreed to have relationships outside of their marriage, the former rabbi said, “however wrong we were.”
The prosecution has been pushing the idea that Neulander feared he’d lose his pulpit and respect in the community if he divorced his wife.
Martha “Mot” Becker, who lives in a senior citizen complex run by the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, said there long has been talk of Neulander’s womanizing.
“I think he’s as guilty as can be,” she said in her apartment, her eyes glued to Neulander testifying on Court TV. “Look at him. He’s trying to cry.”
Becker, 78, said most residents in the complex were watching the trial, and most think Neulander is guilty. They all seem to agree, she said, that “he had something to do with it.”
Eating lunch at The Kibitz Room restaurant in Cherry Hill, Sam Segao of Philadelphia said he knew Carol Neulander well, having sold her ingredients for the desserts she made at her bakery company.
“I was with her at 4 p.m.” on the night of the murder, he said. He is convinced that the former rabbi is guilty, he said, but “I don’t think they are going to convict him.”
Even more emphatic was Ilene Cowan, The Kibitz Room’s owner.
“I definitely think he’s guilty. He figured he’d pick Jenoff and Daniels, imbeciles, because that would not hold up in court,” she said. “He knew what he was doing.”
However, like most other diners, Cowan said, “I think he’s going to get out.”
The case is expected to go to the jury at the end of the week.