Superior Court Judge Linda Baxter angrily announced that she was closing her courtroom to the public while she polled jurors to find out which members of the media contacted them. "It is an outrage frankly that the media has so little respect for this court of law," Baxter said.
After speaking to jurors, Baxter said representatives of ABC's "Good Morning America" had called seven people on the panel. None responded to the inquiries. Baxter said "ABC should consider itself to be warned."
The same jury that convicted Rabbi Fred Neulander of hiring two men to kill his wife so he could carry on an affair must now decide if he should be executed or spend life in prison for the 1994 murder. Neulander was tried a year ago, but the case ended with a hung jury. In that trial, Baxter ruled reporters could not talk to or identify jurors after the conclusion of the case.
Four reporters from The Philadelphia Inquirer were later sanctioned for violating Baxter's order - three by approaching jurors and all four by publishing one of their names after the mistrial.
The second trial was moved 50 miles away to Monmouth County because of intense media coverage of the case in the Philadelphia area. "This is an extremely serious matter, one which threatens to undermine the continuation of these proceedings," Baxter said Thursday.
Neulander, 61, was convicted Wednesday of capital murder, felony murder and conspiracy in slaying of Carol Neulander, 52, in their suburban Philadelphia home. He faces death by injection of a life term.
Defense attorney Michael E. Riley said 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.
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. Another key witness was Elaine Soncini, a former radio personality with whom the rabbi had a nearly two-year affair.