The tangled murder case against Andrea Sneiderman for the death of her husband may have become more difficult to prove since prosecutors introduced suspicions of another man in her life.
The theory of the case alleged in the indictment—that Sneiderman worked with her boss, Hemy Neuman, to kill Rusty Sneiderman so they could be together and benefit from $2 million in life insurance—was cast into doubt when prosecutors suggested the idea that perhaps she had her husband killed so that she could be with a third man, Joseph Dell.
“The State is not sure about its case,” said a Dec. 7 motion signed by Sneiderman attorneys Thomas Clegg, J. Tom Morgan, John Petrey and Douglas Chalmers Jr. “Counsel for the Defendant noted at the time that this new allegation was completely ‘fanciful.’”
Dell told Sneiderman he loved her while she was jailed in August, and he separated from his wife while she was six months pregnant and Neuman’s trial was pending, according to civil filings in a wrongful death suit against her. Sneiderman’s attorneys responded that the two weren’t in a relationship before Rusty Sneiderman’s death, and the couple didn’t live together.
Neuman was found guilty but mentally ill in March 2012, and he’s serving a life sentence for gunning down Rusty Sneiderman as he dropped off his kids at a Dunwoody day care center.
No direct evidence of Sneiderman’s involvement in the killing has been revealed, and the prosecution’s point person on the case, DeKalb County Chief Assistant District Attorney Don Geary, recently quit for a similar job across town in Cobb County. Geary will be available to consult on the Sneiderman case, but he won’t try the case and his replacement hasn’t been named.
Sneiderman’s defense attorneys are asking a judge to prohibit any mention of her relationship with Dell because they say it’s irrelevant. DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Gregory Adams has scheduled a Feb. 21 hearing on the issue.
“Evidence of any relationship between Defendant and Dell (whatever it may be—is it really anyone’s business?) after the death of Rusty Sneiderman can not be used as proof of any sort of motive regarding the death of Rusty Sneiderman,” according to the motion.
The motion said there’s no indication that Andrea Sneiderman and Dell were involved in a romantic relationship when Rusty Sneiderman was killed in November 2010, and the state should withdraw its indictment if it plans to claim Andrea Sneiderman’s goal was to end up with Dell instead of Neuman.
Her attorneys also pointed out that Neuman’s lawyers have said he would testify that they didn’t work together in the killing, and they said there’s no evidence that she and Neuman discussed the killing.
Prosecutors are left with a case that appears to be built around circumstantial evidence, accusations of an affair between Sneiderman and Neuman, and claims that she lied to authorities.
“We are still finding evidence,” Geary said at the Nov. 16 hearing in which he named Dell in connection with the case. “We are following what we think is a valid issue.”
A gag order bars either side’s lawyers from commenting, and the prosecution hasn’t filed a response to the defense motion regarding Dell.
The recent allegations involving Dell, which came 3½ months after her Aug. 2 indictment and arrest, complicate the prosecution’s case, said Lynne Borsuk, a former president of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
“If this information about Mr. Dell is inconsistent with the original indictment, it raises questions of whether they could prove the original allegations at trial,” said Borsuk, who has no involvement in the case but worked with Neuman’s attorneys, Douglas Peters and Robert Rubin, before opening her own practice in 2006. “The question is, is there any evidence that Mrs. Sneiderman wanted her husband dead? That’s critically important.”
District Attorney Robert James Jr. has several options on how to proceed: he could seek a superseding indictment to include the information on Dell, drop the allegation of a relationship with Dell and proceed under the original theory of the case, or decide how to move forward after Adams rules on the Dell motion, said attorney David Weinberg, who hosts a discussion group about the case and writes a blog called Dunwoody Murder Trial of Andrea Sneiderman.
“No matter what, if the DA wants to go with the Dell theory, he better have some good evidence to support such a sensational allegation,” Weinberg wrote in an email. “It will take more than a couple play dates with the kids to show AS wanted Rusty dead in order to be with Dell.”
Sneiderman’s attorney in the wrongful death suit against her, Mark Trigg, wrote in a filing that accusations about a relationship with Dell “is all smoke and subterfuge” designed to convict Sneiderman in the media and manipulate Neuman into jealous rage that would lead him to provide testimony against her.
“It is abundantly clear what has occurred here. Neither the District Attorney nor Plaintiff is having any success finding evidence to support the theory of the case that each asserted months ago in the Indictment and Complaint, respectively,” the filing said. “After making numerous, outrageous and false statements about Mrs. Sneiderman … both the District Attorney and Plaintiff have now been forced by the lack of evidence to change their theory of liability.”
Even if accusations surrounding Dell go nowhere, Sneiderman’s testimony during Neuman’s trial in February and her phone calls immediately after the shooting will likely be used against her.
During the trial, Sneiderman said she didn’t know her husband had been shot until she arrived at the hospital, but her father-in-law and a friend testified that she had called them before she arrived at the hospital to tell them her husband had been shot.
The timing of the phone calls raises the question of how Sneiderman could have known her husband had been shot so soon after the attack unless she had prior knowledge of Neuman’s plans, said E. Jay Abt, an attorney for Shayna Citron, the friend Sneiderman called on her way to the hospital.
“That’s really the key to the case,” Abt said. “It leaves a lot of questions. How did she know? On her best day, it means she knew about the murder in advance and did nothing to stop it.”
Rusty Sneiderman was shot outside of a Dunwoody day care center shortly after 9 a.m. on Nov. 18, 2010. Andrea Sneiderman received a phone call from a day care center employee a few minutes later to tell her there had been an accident, but the employee didn’t say her husband had been shot, according to testimony of Sneiderman and the employee, Donna Formato.
Sneiderman then called Rusty Sneiderman’s father, Don Sneiderman, around 9:30 a.m. to tell him that his son had been shot, Abt said. At some point, she arrived at the day care center, but she testified no one there would tell her what had happened. After 10 a.m., she called Citron and said her husband had been shot. Sneiderman was told her husband was dead when she arrived at Atlanta Medical Center around 11 a.m.
Sneiderman doesn’t remember the exact timing and content of the phone calls, Trigg wrote in a Nov. 9 filing.
“Defendant has made reasonable efforts to refresh her recollection, but does not remember exactly when it was that she was told that her husband was shot,” the filing said. “Defendant was told for the first time at the Atlanta Medical Center that Rusty had been killed.”
Besides the phone calls, the indictment also alleges that Sneiderman provided Neuman with her husband’s schedule for the morning he was killed, and she’s accused of providing Neuman with information about a walking path near her residence, where the indictment says Neuman originally planned to carry out the murder.
Prosecutors will face a high bar for proving their case based on circumstantial evidence, Borsuk said.
Georgia law requires in O.C.G.A. § 24-4-6 that a conviction on circumstantial evidence must be consistent with the hypothesis of guilt and exclude every other reasonable hypothesis other than that of the guilt of the accused.
That means prosecutors must decide their theory of Sneiderman’s motive—whether it was to be with Neuman or Dell—and present evidence to prove those specific facts, Borsuk said.
“If you have a case that’s based wholly on circumstantial evidence, it is essential that the prosecution have a clear and cogent theory as to how and why the defendant committed the crime,” she said. “The question is, does the state really know? This new development involving Dell raises real questions about what the state’s allegations are. They obviously don’t know.”
Observers of the case should wait and see how the trial plays out before deciding on the strength or weakness of the prosecution’s case, said attorney Jonathan Ganz, who was a friend of Rusty Sneiderman.
“A rush to judgment is not warranted on any level, both from those quick to judge Andrea as guilty and those equally as quick to defend her as not guilty,” Ganz said. “People really should allow the wheels of justice to play out and not look at this on a micro level on a day-to-day basis.”
The case is State v. Sneiderman, No. 12-CR-4394.