Murder charges against Andrea Sneiderman were formally dropped Friday after a tumultuous hearing where defense attorneys accused the prosecution of overcharging the case to begin with.
But after hearing from District Attorney Robert James, DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Gregory A. Adams, who did not immediately agree to dismiss the charges of murder, felony murder and aggravated assault, relented.
Sneiderman will now stand trial on Monday facing 13 lesser counts.
Sneiderman’s lawyer, Tom Clegg, had asked Adams to delay the trial for six months to a year on grounds that Sneiderman cannot get a fair trial because of pretrial publicity. But Adams denied that motion.
The judge said 283 people will be called in Monday for jury selection. If a fair and impartial jury can’t be found after questioning the initial 283 individuals, he said, another 300 will be called in.
After James announced his intention not to pursue the three most serious criminal charges, Sneiderman’s lawyer, Clegg, said he never believed there was enough evidence to sustain the charges.
“I believe they’ve known all along they didn’t have a murder case,” Clegg said.
James called that “a cheap shot,” saying he had only arrived at his determination after receiving pretrial discovery from the defense.
“I think it would be unjust and unethical for the District Attorney’s Office to move forward on a charge I’m not 100 percent sure of,” James said.
The district attorney said he had never indicted a case where, at the outset, he did not believe he had the evidence to obtain a conviction. And he said he had never pursued a prosecution after obtaining an indictment when he was in doubt of a defendant’s guilt.
“I’m not sure as to counts one, two and three of this indictment,” James said. “…It seems absurd to me that allegation would be thrown out there. I’m struggling to see how that lacks ethics.”
Adams signaled his displeasure with the last-minute decision and called lawyers to the bench repeatedly during the three-hour hearing. Adams called a recess at one point, presumably allowing Sneiderman, who sat in a conference room with Clegg and her parents, to decide whether to accept a plea offer from the prosecution.
But she finally emerged into the courtroom, and Clegg announced the trial would begin Monday.
Sneiderman faces four perjury counts, seven counts of making false statements and one count each of hindering the apprehension of a criminal and concealment of material fact. Each charge carries maximum sentences ranging from five to 10 years in prison.
Most of those charges revolve around what Sneiderman is alleged to have said — or withheld — regarding her relationship with former boss Hemy Neuman. Neuman was found guilty but mentally ill and sentenced to life in prison for the November 2010 fatal shooting of Sneiderman’s husband, Rusty.
Prosecutors sought to use previous testimony from Neuman’s friend, Melanie White, regarding conversations they had about his relationship with Andrea Sneiderman. Neuman has already announced through his attorneys he would not testify for the state.
‘There was a romantic and physical relationship between the two of them,” said prosecutor Anna Cross. “The state expects there will be a lot of information about the relationship presented from witnesses other than Mrs. White.”
But the defense argued that White and Neuman were not particularly close and that his word could not trusted.
“There’s a lot of questions to his character and mental stability,” said defense attorney J. Tom Morgan. “He is a certifiable, judicially determined lunatic.”
Neuman has already stated, through his attorneys, he will not take the stand in the Sneiderman trial.
Sneiderman was initially indicted as Neuman’s co-conspirator following her arrest last August. She was re-indicted twice this year, charged as a “party to the crime” of murder rather than a conspirator. Georgia law defines that, in part, as intentionally advising, encouraging, hiring, counseling or procuring another to commit a crime.