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For years, Fred Neulander enjoyed respect in the Cherry Hill, N.J., area because he was the rabbi of a large congregation. Now, as he prepares for trial on charges that he hired two hit men to kill his wife, his role as a rabbi could be viewed as a deficit and is having an impact on jury selection. The 50-page juror questionnaire asks potential jurors everything from the types of bumper stickers they sport on their cars to their favorite subjects in school. But a thread running through a chunk of the 174-question document is the attempt to detect bias, specifically anti-Semitism. The emphasis is not misplaced, say some defense attorneys who are following but are not involved in the case. Jury selection began two weeks ago, and the stakes are high. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty if Neulander is convicted. “You can’t get around the fact that he’s a rabbi,” says Hamilton, N.J., solo practitioner Robert Obler, who has tried about 15 capital cases. “There is still ethnic prejudice in this country, and you have to find out what the juror believes. The only way to do that is in the questionnaire or during voir dire.” Assistant Public Defender Dale Jones agrees. “It’s unavoidable,” says Jones. “You have to uncover as many biases as possible. There is the possibility of anti-Semitism. It’s still lurking in this day and age.” Thus, many of the questions go to the heart of the issue. For example: � How do you feel about Jewish people in general? � Fred Neulander is Jewish. He was the rabbi of M’Kor Shalom synagogue in Cherry Hill and functioned as a religious leader. Would that fact affect your ability to be fair and impartial as to the issues in this case? � Have you ever had a bad or negative experience with someone who is Jewish? Please explain. � Do you have any friends or relatives who are Jewish? � There may be some people who have strong feelings about Jewish people. Do you believe that you would be more fair to Fred Neulander if he were not Jewish? � As you may know, there are certain labels or stereotypes which are used by some people to describe persons of various racial, religious or ethnic groups. Have you, a member of your family or a close friend ever been subjected to such labels or stereotypes based on racial, religious or ethnic heritage? If yes, please describe. The questionnaire also asks the potential jurors’ religious background, frequency of attendance at services, view of the role of religion in life and in the criminal justice system, feelings about interethnic or religious marriage or dating, and reactions to racial or ethnic slurs or joke. Neulander’s two lawyers — Dennis Wixted and Jeffrey Zucker, partners at Blackwood, N.J.’s Sufrin, Zucker, Steinberg, Waller & Wixted — could not be reached for comment. But Obler says such questions must be asked. “As long as the question is relevant to the issue it’s proper, especially with this guy,” he says. The questionnaire also provides a list of organizations and asks the potential jurors to state their familiarity with and views of those groups. They include the American Civil Liberties Union, White Aryan Nation, B’nai B’rith, Greenpeace, Handgun Control Inc., Ku Klux Klan, Moral Majority, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, NAACP, National Jewish Anti-Defamation League, National Organization for Women, National Pro-Choice, National Rifle Association, National Right to Life and the Jewish Defense League. Neulander’s status as a rabbi also is addressed. For example, the questionnaire asks whether the potential jurors believe that a religious leader should be judged by a different standard than other people and is more likely than other people to tell the truth. Potential jurors also are asked whether they would find it difficult to vote for capital punishment because of Neulander’s status as a religious leader. Neulander returned to the family’s Cherry Hill home the night of Nov. 1, 1994, to find his wife, Carol, beaten to death on the living room floor. Leonard Jenoff and Paul M. Daniels have confessed to the murder and are expected to be the prosecution’s key witnesses. Neulander has denied any involvement in the murder. Prosecutors contend that Neulander wanted to continue an affair with a congregant, former Philadelphia radio personality Elaine Soncini. He had his wife killed, they allege, because he feared divorce would cost him his congregation. Each day, a hundred or more potential jurors are herded into the courtroom of Camden County, N.J., Superior Court Judge Linda Baxter. At least half are excused for a variety of reasons. In order to find a jury of 12, plus four alternates, Baxter must qualify at least 60 potential jurors. To reach that number, Baxter may have to call in more than 1,200 potential jurors by the time the trial begins.

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