Trial starts for Sneiderman on lesser charges
by Kate Brumback, Associated Press
August 04, 2013 11:57 PM | 3940 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ATLANTA — Opening statements that start today in the trial of Andrea Sneiderman will mark the beginning of the end for a case that has seen dramatic twists and turns, including the recent dismissal of murder charges against her.

Sneiderman was arrested last year after prosecutors accused her of helping to orchestrate the killing of her husband, 36-year-old Rusty Sneiderman. The Harvard-educated entrepreneur was gunned down in November 2010, shortly after dropping off the couple’s 2-year-old son at a preschool in Dunwoody.

Hemy Neuman, a Georgia Tech graduate and father of three and Andrea Sneiderman’s boss, was arrested about six weeks later. A jury in March 2012 found Neuman guilty but mentally ill.

Sneiderman, 37, of Decatur, was arrested in August 2012 and has been under house arrest for much of the last year. Lawyers for both sides had for months been planning for a trial on one count each of malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault, as well as one count each of hindering the apprehension of a criminal and concealment of material facts, four counts of making false statements and seven counts of perjury.

But on July 26 — on the eve of jury selection — DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James took the unusual step of asking the judge to dismiss the murder and aggravated assault charges. James cited his recent review of evidence the defense turned over as part of pre-trial discovery as the reason for dropping the charges.

Thomas Clegg, one of Sneiderman’s lead attorneys, balked at the explanation. “I believe they have known all along that they didn’t have a murder case,” he said in open court. The judge granted James’ request and released Sneiderman from house arrest.

The last-minute change in plans surprised many, but University of Georgia law professor Ron Carlson said prosecutors are increasingly mindful of over-charging, especially in light of recent high-profile cases where defense attorneys have been able to overcome a perceived pre-conviction in the media.

“If you’ve got an over-the-top charge that’s difficult to prove that the jury is not convinced about, they’re sometimes quite likely to go right down the scale and reject everything, so prosecutors want to be discriminating and intelligent about the charges they bring,” he said.

The case now centers on whether Sneiderman lied to police during the investigation and to the court during Neuman’s trial about whether she had been in a romantic relationship with Neuman and on the timing of when she found out that her husband had been killed. Prosecutors initially posited that Sneiderman wanted her husband dead to get a life insurance payout and start a new life with Neuman.

While the murder charges might have been very difficult for prosecutors to prove, trials on false statements and perjury charges are often tough for the defense, Carlson said.

Sneiderman has pleaded not guilty to all charges against her and has repeatedly denied any romantic involvement with Neuman.

Prosecutors say Sneiderman destroyed text messages and a record of phone calls between herself and Neuman the day her husband was killed and initially failed to tell police that she suspected Neuman was involved in the killing. She also lied to police during the investigation and under oath during Neuman’s trial about her romantic relationship with him and when she found out about her husband’s death, the indictment says.

Phone records presented at Neuman’s monthlong trial in 2013 showed she and Neuman exchanged three phone calls on the eve of her husband’s death and that she called him six more times on the way to the hospital. She testified that she didn’t know her husband had been shot until she reached the hospital about an hour after the shooting, though her father-in-law and a close friend both testified she told them he had been shot during calls made on her way to the hospital.

A lawyer for Neuman has said on multiple occasions that his client will not testify in Andrea Sneiderman’s trial.

The case — from Rusty Sneiderman’s killing and Hemy Neuman’s trial up through Andrea Sneiderman’s arrest and prosecution — has captured enormous media attention and public interest. That was clearly on lawyers’ minds when they were questioning potential jurors last week.

During four days of selection, lawyers for both sides asked potential jurors about their knowledge of the case and whether they had any opinions about it or about Sneiderman’s guilt or innocence. They also asked about the jurors’ personal interactions with law enforcement, the judicial system and divorce proceedings.

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