Hitmen sentenced in murder of rabbi's wife
By John Springer
CAMDEN, New Jersey (Court TV) -- Two confessed hitmen hired by a New Jersey rabbi to kill his wife were each sentenced to 23 years in prison Thursday.
Leonard Jenoff originally faced up to 30 years and Paul Daniels up to 50 years, but both could now be out of prison in as few as seven. Both men have already served three years and will be eligible to apply for parole after 10.
The two pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter for their role in the beating death of Carol Neulander, wife of New Jersey rabbi Fred Neulander. They admitted to police that Neulander paid them $18,000 for the killing, and they testified against the once-respected religious leader in his November murder trial.
Judge Linda Baxter gave Jenoff credit for coming forward about the November 1, 1994, crime when he was not even a suspect. She also noted that his testimony was critical to Neulander's conviction for the murder.
"Without your cooperation, there is a considerably strong possibility that the most culpable co-defendant, Fred Neulander, might have been acquitted," said Baxter, who sentenced Neulander to 30 years to life in prison on January 16.
"Let me be clear," she added, however. "You are, and you were, a very calculating murderer who killed Carol Neulander in a most brutal manner."
Jenoff, who like Daniels appeared handcuffed and shackled and wearing an orange prison uniform, expressed remorse before the sentence was issued.
"I realize what I have done. I denied Carol Neulander the right to have a full and fruitful life. I denied Carol Neulander the right to be a loving wife, loving mother, loving sister and sister-in-law ... I denied her the right to be a loving grandmother, which she would be today if not for me," Jenoff said.
Baxter interjected, "Two grandchildren."
During his sentencing, Daniels blamed his actions the night of the murder on a drug problem, which his lawyer, Craig Mitnick, said his client had suffered since age 10.
"I just want to say to the Neulander family that it wasn't me at the time. I was on drugs," Daniels mumbled. "I was messed up. I didn't mean to hurt their family in any way."
Mitnick asked the judge to take into account Daniels' severe, diagnosed mental and health problems. He also noted that Daniels, who attempted suicide three times since the killing, was sexually abused as a child by his father.
Daniels, now 28, was also sentenced to 20 years for robbery at the crime scene, but, bowing to a wish by the victim's siblings that Daniels get no more prison time than Jenoff, the judge ordered Daniels' sentences to run concurrently.
'Why? Why? Why?'
Most people following the sensational case knew Jenoff, now 54, only as Neulander's investigator for more than six years after the killing. He even spoke to the media on Neulander's behalf, including Nancy Philips, a Philadelphia Inquirer writer investigating the murder.
When Jenoff finally told Phillips that he knew a lot more about the murder than he had previously let on, Philips convinced him about a month before Neulander's scheduled trial in May 2000 to meet with prosecutors and police in a Cherry Hill diner. Three days later, Jenoff gave police a full statement implicating himself and Daniels.
During the trial, both Jenoff and Daniels described the killing of Carol Neulander in graphic details. It occurred on a Tuesday night, the only night of the week that Carol Neulander would be alone, Fred Neulander told Jenoff, according to testimony.
Pretending to have a delivery for the rabbi, Jenoff gained access to the house. When Carol Neulander's back was turned, he hit her on the head with a short length of lead pipe. Carol Neulander asked, "Why? Why? Why?" as she lay on the ground, according to Jenoff. He then summoned Daniels, who waited outside, to finish it.
Fred Neulander told police the night of the killing that he returned home from Temple M'Kor Shalom at about 9:40 p.m. to find his wife of almost 29 years lying in a pool of her own blood. Police became suspicious when he explained that there was not a speck of blood on his suit or body because he was so "repulsed" by the sight that he did not try to render aid.
He also denied any marital strife and insisted that he was faithful to Carol Neulander. Both were lies. His son, North Carolina physician Matthew Neulander, testified that his parents had a terrible fight two nights before the killing and Fred Neulander told her in the son's presence, "It's over."
Police learned soon after the murder that Fred Neulander was having an affair with Elaine Soncini, then a Philadelphia radio personality. She testified that she never gave Neulander any ultimatums but indicated she was "moving on" with her life on Jan. 1, 1995. Neulander promised his mistress that they would be a couple by her birthday in December 1994.
Neulander was indicted for murder in 1998 and the case, entirely circumstantial and weak in the view of many at the time, was headed for trial when Jenoff appeared with his story. A November 2001 trial ended in a hung jury and mistrial. The defense failed to convince the jury that Jenoff, a self-aggrandizing liar, falsely implicated Neulander for vengeful, personal motives and gain.
Jurors failed to agree unanimously on a death sentence for Neulander. Jenoff and Daniels both escaped a potential death sentence for their murder-for-hire by pleading guilty and agreeing to testify against Neulander.
At the sentencing Thursday, the victim's brother, Edward Lidz, told the court that, although he appreciated Jenoff's testimony, he felt that both men already got a break when they were allowed to plead guilty to something less than murder.
"No one forced them to enter Carol's home and take her life," Lidz said. "They did it to get the money... Simply put, they accepted a price for a human life set by Fred [Neulander]."
The Neulanders' three adult children did not attend the sentencings, but a victims' advocate read a letter signed by all three -- Matthew and Benjamin Neulander and Rebecca Neulander-Rockoff -- in which they called the two men "monsters."
"These men are not star witnesses ... These men are cold-blooded murderers," the letter said.