DECATUR, Ga. -- Prosecutors urged jurors Tuesday to dismiss a murder defendant's assertions that an angel who looked like Olivia Newton-John ordered him to fatally shoot a co-worker's husband outside a preschool. They say Hemy Neuman was not delusional or insane and had planned the killing for months.
Neuman fell so hopelessly in love with Andrea Sneiderman, whom he supervised at General Electric, that he believed he was the father of her two children and that the only way to protect them was to kill Russell Sneiderman in November 2010, Neuman's attorney Doug Peters said during opening arguments.
"He thought Sophia and Ian were his children and that Rusty Sneiderman was a danger to them," said Peters, who contends his client is not guilty by reason of insanity because he couldn't tell the difference between right and wrong at the time of the killing.
Neuman believed an angel told him to pull the trigger, said Peters, who didn't give details.
Prosecutors, though, urged jurors to reject the insanity claim, arguing the 48-year-old Neuman meticulously planned the killing so he could be with Andrea Sneiderman. Prosecutors said Neuman will also claim he was visited by a demon who sounded like Barry White.
"I'll boil it down to a sentence: A man wanted someone else's wife so he killed her husband," said Don Geary, one of the prosecutors. "He got caught. We ask you to return a verdict that speaks the truth."
Her husband was shot to death shortly after dropping their 2-year-old son off at a day care center in Dunwoody, an affluent suburb north of Atlanta. A bearded man in a hoodie approached Sneiderman, fired several shots and then hopped into a silver minivan and sped away. It happened so quickly that police initially believed it could have been a professional job.VIDEO: (Story Continues Below)
At the center of the trial is Andrea Sneiderman. Peters said the two shared a string of "intimate relations" during business trips after he hired her in early 2010, but that she rebuffed his attempts to marry her. Prosecutors say she rejects the allegations and that Neuman could be hallucinating.
She testified Tuesday that Neuman seemed stable to her and that she rejected his advances.
Police interviewed Neuman six weeks after Sneiderman's death after detectives discovered that shortly before the shooting he rented a minivan matching the description of a vehicle seen driving away from the crime scene. He faces life in prison without parole if convicted. He'd be turned over to the state mental health system if found not guilty.
Neuman who also lived in the Atlanta suburbs had a troubled childhood and was constantly in fear of his father, who was wracked with guilt for having survived the Auschwitz death camp during the Holocaust while 11 other relatives died. He eventually moved from his home in Mexico to a boarding school in Israel, partly to get away from his father's volatile behavior.
"It was a life of anger, it was a life filled with terror, of not knowing when or why their father would explode with rage," Peters said.
He later graduated from Georgia Tech and bought a pricey home in a Cobb County subdivision after landing a job as a high-ranking manager at GE, where he made $180,000 a year and supervised 5,000 engineers and a $800 million budget, prosecutors said.
Neuman hired Andrea Sneiderman in early 2010 after she decided she needed to earn more money because her husband, a 36-year-old Harvard-trained entrepreneur, was having trouble finding steady work, attorneys said. They soon hit it off, and on work trips they would share long dinners, wine and occasionally romance, Neuman's defense team contends.
Prosecutors say Neuman began planning Russell Sneiderman's killing after she rebuffed one of his advances. They say he bought a gun, took it to target practice and then on Nov. 10 camped outside Sneiderman's house to try to kill him. He bolted when Sneiderman, who couldn't recognize Neuman, startled him.
Nine days later, prosecutors say, Neuman arrived at his office earlier than usual - at 5:36 a.m. - and then sneaked out a back door to avoid security cameras and give himself an alibi. He then drove to the Dunwoody Prep day care center, shot Sneiderman four times and hopped in the minivan and tried to melt into morning rush traffic, they say.
Neuman was so callous about his actions that he returned to work a few hours later and later participated in the religious ceremonies of his victim's death, including the Jewish ritual of shoveling dirt on Sneiderman's grave at his funeral, Geary said.
Peters asked the jurors to pay careful attention to phone records between Neuman and Andrea Sneiderman, noting that the two exchanged three calls on the night before the shooting and that she called him six times in the hours after her husband was killed.
He also said his arguments that his client couldn't tell the difference between right and wrong during the killing are backed by evaluations from psychiatrists and mental health experts who diagnosed Neuman as bipolar and concluded he had a delusional disorder.
"This case is not about what happened. We know what happened," Peters said. "It's about why."