While the secular press – both local and national – are unemotionally recounting the sensational and salacious facts of the Hemy Zvi Neuman case now that the Israeli-born convicted murderer has requested a new trial, Jewish Atlanta is cringing.
Long-term friendships were severed as members of the Jewish community were called to testify both for the prosecution and the defense in the 2012 trial. Threats and hate mail were sent to one of the attorneys involved. Now unhealed wounds are being ripped open once again with the latest legal maneuvers.
For those new to the community or unfamiliar with the case, on November 18, 2010, Russell “Rusty” Sneiderman was shot and killed outside a Dunwoody preschool where he was taking his child. That was trauma enough, but weeks later Hemy Neuman, the boss of Sneiderman’s widow, Andrea, was arrested for the murder. Both Neuman and his now ex-wife Ariela Barkoni were well-established members of the community, the latter, a teacher at The Epstein School. The Sneidermans were members of Congregation Or Hadash.
On March 15, 2012, Neuman was found guilty, but mentally ill, of malice murder and guilty of possession of a firearm during commission of a felony. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, plus five years for the felony weapons charge. Four years later, after a retrial of the case, he was again found guilty — this time without acceptance of an insanity claim — and again sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Now he’s asking for another trial, again claiming mental illness caused by his intense love for his victim’s wife, Andrea, who has since changed her last name to Russell, her late husband’s first name. She was subsequently convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for her testimony about her relationship with Neuman in his first trial.
Calls to one of Neuman’s two new court-appointed attorneys were not returned, although Michael Tarleton, one of the new attorneys, was quoted by the Atlanta Journal Constitution as saying, “The fact that a previous jury found him guilty but mentally ill acts as an acquittal of a completely guilty verdict.” He stated that double jeopardy precludes a straight guilty verdict.
In any case, Neuman, now a resident of Augusta State Medical Prison, is not denying the murder.
For some in the Jewish community who had hoped the chapter was closed on this case, his request for a retrial is unwelcome news. “First of all, it was a Jewish man murdering another Jewish man in front of his kid’s daycare,” attorney Esther Panitch told the AJT. “Then sides were quickly taken” once details of the affair became public knowledge. “No one wants to relive this nightmare,” Panitch said, noting she was not surprised by the reluctancy of others to be quoted for this story.
Panitch, of The Panitch Law Group, was intimately involved in the case, having represented Neuman’s ex-wife in her divorce from him, and the family of the deceased in a wrongful death case against Andrea Sneiderman.
“It was a very painful episode in the history of the Jewish community in Atlanta that broke long-term friendships,” said one prominent Atlanta Jewish leader who didn’t want to be named. “It divided the whole community.”
Panitch recounts how she was targeted by Andrea Sneiderman’s friends. “I was the only voice out there calling attention to Andrea’s involvement. I was the target of hate,” she said. Community members sent a letter to The Epstein School, where her children were enrolled, asking that the school remove her from the “educational community. I was brought into the principal’s office and told not to talk about the case. Once Andrea’s involvement came out, I received an apology” from the school.
She did not hear from the main letter writer, although she eventually reconciled with some of the people named in the letter. “This was my life for two to three years. I was dealing with this at Kroger and at the JCC. It was incredibly stressful.” Even the week of her daughter’s bat mitzvah, Panitch and her husband were called “the most horrible people in Dunwoody.”
Panitch said she feels “no animosity to friends of Andrea.” Like many of those caught in the whirlwind of the high-profile drama, Panitch – who handles domestic violence and murder cases – says she’s gone on with her life. “I don’t want to relive it. This is not a show. It’s not a movie,” Panitch added. “It’s real life.”