by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:
DUNWOODY, Ga. - A Channel 2 Action News investigation has uncovered serious questions about the Dunwoody Daycare murder investigation, including evidence lost and leads ignored.
A DeKalb County grand jury has now indicted the victim's widow on eight counts, including murder. But investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer learned the Dunwoody police department never even considered Andrea Sneiderman a suspect.
Fleischer asked Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan, "You never actually thought 'maybe she helped do this?"
"Not seriously, no," replied Grogan.
Dunwoody police did catch the gunman, Hemy Neuman, six weeks after he shot and killed Rusty Sneiderman in the parking lot of the Dunwoody Prep Preschool.
Neuman was Andrea Sneiderman’s boss at GE Energy. At his trial, his defense attorneys and prosecutors all alleged the two were having an affair. Andrea Sneiderman has repeatedly denied that, and any involvement in her husband’s murder.
"By the time the police got to where they needed to be and made the arrest, a lot of evidence was lost," said Don Geary, DeKalb County chief assistant district attorney.
"It doesn't take a Ph.D. to make those kinds of connections. Your boss killed your husband, the next question is, ‘Are you involved?’" said Steve Sneiderman, Rusty's brother.
Rusty Sneiderman’s father, Don Sneiderman, said two days after Neuman’s arrest, the family was begging Dunwoody police to investigate Andrea.
“They said, ‘No, we don’t have any evidence that she’s involved,’” Don Sneiderman told Fleischer, adding that police acknowledged they never even considered Andrea a suspect. He says he was furious to learn of a planned news conference to put to rest speculation of an affair and that she was a suspect.
“They were going to exonerate her,” said Don Sneiderman. Grogan said that was never the department’s intention.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Don Geary told Channel 2, "I was the one who communicated with Chief Grogan. I just didn't think it was wise at the time given what we knew and what we believed was still to learn."
A jury convicted Neuman in March, and a judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole. On Aug. 2, officers arrested Andrea Sneiderman at her family’s home on Lake Oconee.
Prosecutors allege she conspired with and encouraged Neuman, giving him information necessary to commit the crime. She collected $2 million from her husband’s life insurance policy.
"If Andrea Sneiderman, who's sitting on a pile of millions of dollars, ends up walking away from this, she definitely has the Dunwoody police department to thank for it," said Jay Abt, the attorney representing one of Andrea Sneiderman's best friends.
Grogan acknowledged that his detectives never directly asked Andrea Sneiderman if she was involved in the murder, because they had no reason to suspect her.
Retired GBI agent Ralph Stone said Andrea Sneiderman should have been suspect No. one.
"Oh man, you always start, always, always start with those that are closest to the victim," said Stone, who has worked hundreds of murder cases.
Andrea Sneiderman mentioned Hemy Neuman to detectives the day after the murder, when asked if anyone had tried to hit on her or break up her marriage.
Detectives did not seek out Neuman to interview him.
"Well, if you could go back in time, immediately when we'd had his name, we'd have went and talked to him, but that's hindsight," said Grogan.
"Even if the wife downplays it, they should have talked to the boss?" Fleischer asked Stone.
"Oh sure, sure absolutely," replied Stone.
"How quickly?" asked Fleischer.
"Right away," replied Stone.
Police ignored that lead, despite suspicious behavior like Andrea's parents refusing to let detectives search her home the night of the murder.
"Well, that raises a red flag, but also tells me I better get that search warrant right now," said Stone.
Dunwoody police instead waited until the next day.
And a month after the murder, another detective retrieved a list of minivan rentals matching the description of the getaway van from the shooting. Hemy Neuman’s name was on it, but the detective did not recognize the name.
“We have practices in place so the right hand knows what the left hand is doing, and we certainly from that learned," acknowledged Grogan.
He said his detectives also could have sent a letter to Andrea Sneiderman’s cellphone company to preserve her text messages, in case they found probable cause for a warrant later. By the time prosecutors tried to get them, they were gone.
"I can't tell you what was in those messages because I haven't seen them. But these are things we would have liked to have seen," said DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James, who stopped short of directly criticizing the police department’s work.
But prosecutors now think more than 1,000 texts between Sneiderman and Neuman might have proven an affair and conspiracy.
"Not getting the cellphone records and text messages from the spouse, who should be your No. 1 suspect in any murder, is negligent," said Abt.
At trial, prosecutors played an audio recording of Grogan informing Andrea Sneiderman of Neuman’s arrest in the case.
Her comments included, ‘Are you serious?’ ‘Can you sit down, you’re making me nervous,’ and ‘Are you sure?’
It took her nearly a minute to ask who they had arrested.
Grogan said Sneiderman never seemed to express any relief that there had been an arrest.
"No. I was thinking there's a whole lot more to this than meets the eye," said Grogan.
Grogan said detectives suspected Andrea was lying about an affair, but not that she may have been involved in the murder.
During Neuman’s trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys called Andrea a master manipulator.
"I don't know that she manipulated us, she wasn't as cooperative as we would like," said Grogan, acknowledging that Andrea Sneiderman left interviews before detectives were finished questioning her.
When Hemy Neuman's wife found emails between the pair, her lawyer, Esther Panitch, told Fleischer detectives weren't interested.
"I was trying to give them information regarding what could have been a motive and they refused to take it. I just don't know how you justify that," said Panitch.
Prosecutors took over the Neuman case and solidified his motive, which pointed toward Andrea. Her indictment is now largely based on circumstantial evidence. But District Attorney Robert James said he would not have taken the case to a grand jury if he did not think he could prove it.
Rusty Sneiderman’s murder was only the second murder case worked by Dunwoody police. The chief said his detectives had prior experience with other departments and were balancing respect for a grieving widow with the need to get answers.
"It almost seemed like we were bothering her to try to talk to her. You can force them to stay if you had charged them with a crime, but then they have a choice of speaking or not speaking," said Grogan, adding that in hindsight, there are things his department could have done better, but he still feels his detectives did a good job with the case.