The penalty phase of the trial of Rabbi Fred Neulander, 61, was set to begin Thursday with the jury of seven men and five women listening to arguments on whether he should die by lethal injection or spend life in prison.
Jurors deliberated for 27 hours over four days before convicting Neulander on Wednesday of capital murder, felony murder and conspiracy in the Nov. 1, 1994, slaying of Carol Neulander, 52, in their suburban Philadelphia home. The verdict came nearly a year after his first trial ended in a hung jury.
Defense attorney Michael E. Riley said the penalty phase would likely last only a few days, and that he would argue against the death penalty based on Neulander's age and his lack of a prior record. He also said the rabbi will take the stand to ask the jury to spare his life. "He's a very courageous, strong man," Riley said.
Though he did not testify at his second trial, Neulander took the stand last year to deny any role in the slaying, saying he and his wife had an open marriage in which they agreed to see other people. "I was selfish and arrogant. I went beyond the bounds of the marriage," Neulander testified then. "I betrayed Carol. I betrayed my family. I betrayed my synagogue. I betrayed my religion."
Members of M'Kor Shalom, the synagogue Neulander helped found, released a statement Wednesday: "During this long and difficult period, Congregation M'Kor Shalom persevered through times of profound sadness and confusion, often in the harsh spotlight of the media." "We have reiterated throughout this ordeal our embrace of both justice and compassion," it said.
Riley did not know if any of Neulander's three children will testify on behalf of their father. Some jurors were moved to tears during the testimony of the couple's son, Matthew Neulander, who described arriving at the bloody scene of his mother's death _ and seeing that his father failed to register any emotion.
In 1998, Neulander was charged with conspiracy to murder and being an accessory to murder. The charges were upgraded to murder after private investigator Len Jenoff came forward two years ago and said he and his roommate killed Carol Neulander at the rabbi's asking for $30,000.
Jenoff and his roommate, Paul Daniels, both pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter and agreed to testify against the rabbi. Both will be sentenced to 10- to 30-year prison terms, likely early next year.
Jurors also heard from Elaine Soncini, the former Philadelphia radio personality with whom the rabbi had a nearly two-year affair. She said she met Neulander when it was suggested he preside at the funeral of her husband, Ken Garland, who died in December 1992. Soncini said as she was paying Neulander for the funeral he asked if he could call her, and the affair began shortly afterward.
Prosecutors said the rabbi snapped when Soncini said she wanted to break off their relationship. She also testified: "My increasing concern was that the man I loved had something to do with the murder of his wife and he was going to do it to me, too."