Critics: Dunwoody police took kid-gloves approach to Andrea Sneiderman

As DeKalb prosecutors prepare their murder case against Andrea Sneiderman, they have to work around what isn't there — potential evidence that was lost because Dunwoody police never treated Rusty Sneiderman's widow as a possible suspect.

The police's posture, effectively ruling her out as a target, baffles experienced criminal investigators who have watched the case closely. "It's been a rule of thumb for a hundred years or longer that you always start with the closest person to the victim and move out," said Ralph Stone, a retired GBI agent and FBI-trained profiler.

Sneiderman, who has a bond hearing Tuesday, has denied that she conspired with the trigger man, Hemy Neuman, whom a jury found guilty but mentally ill. Among the decisions by investigators that could complicate the prosecution's task:

  • When police arrived at the Sneiderman's home on the day Rusty was gunned down, Andrea's family refused them entry until they obtained a warrant. Police waited until the next day to get one — potentially giving her many hours in which to destroy anything that might have implicated her, say critics of the investigation.
  • On that second day, Andrea Sneiderman mentioned to the lead detective that Neuman, then her boss, had made a pass at her. He didn't interview Neuman or share that information with other officers working the case.
  • Investigators did not ask Andrea's cell phone provider to preserve records of her calls in the months leading up to the killing.
  • They waited several weeks to interview one of her closest friends, who suspected, despite Andrea's denials, that she and Neuman were having an affair.

Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan, in an extensive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after Neuman's conviction, said his officers did the best they could with the evidence available to them.

"Sometimes it's easy to see how the pieces fit together when you're at the end looking back," Grogan said. "But when you're in the middle of it, you don't have the benefit of looking back and saying, 'Oh, this is what happened.'"

Sneiderman's lawyers say no evidence of her guilt was lost because she is innocent of any involvement in the crime.

"There's no evidence that's going to show that Andrea Sneiderman is guilty," said defense co-counsel John Petrey.

Chief among the items both defense and prosecution say they wish they had are the more than 1,000 text messages she exchanged with Neuman over six months.

If police had apprehended Neuman sooner, "we probably would have been able to salvage some if not many of the text messages," said DeKalb Chief Deputy District Attorney Don Geary. "But by the time police got to where they needed to be and made the arrest, a lot of evidence was lost."

But Sneiderman's lawyers say the texts would support their client's contention that her relationship with Neuman was purely platonic.

"We hope nothing's been lost," Petrey said. "We're not looking to get her off on some sort of loophole."

As it happened, when detective Gary Cortellino interviewed Neuman for the first time 47 days after the murder, he had no clue that Neuman was even acquainted with Andrea Sneiderman. He had traced Neuman by an entirely different route: reviewing rental car records.

Scouring GBI records for owners of vehicles that matched the getaway car, a silver Kia Sedona, led police to a rental car firm in Sandy Springs. They found that Neuman had rented a Sedona from that location the day before the murder.

Neuman's name rang no bells with Cortellinio, even though Andrea Sneiderman had given it to Detective Andrew Thompson on the day after the shooting.

Grogan described to the AJC why Thompson didn't think Neuman's name important enough to pursue: "She very casually, and this was near the end [of the interview on Nov. 19], mentioned that her boss had made a pass at her one time, but she rebuffed him and that was it," the chief said.

Thompson, in a hearing before Neuman's trial, said police didn't zero in on Neuman because "we were being driven towards other avenues of investigation" by Sneiderman and her immediate family.

That explanation doesn't pass muster with Stone, the retired GBI investigator. "If she identified anybody that made a pass at her, the boss, you want to ask yourself [why] haven't you talked to the boss yet," he said.

In hindsight, Grogan acknowledged, not circulating Neuman's name to all officers working the case was an bad call that has prompted the department to change its procedures.

"We want to make sure ... that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing," Grogan said, "and we certainly learned from that and will certainly improve that in the future."

Similarly, Grogan said his department didn't ask Andrea's cell phone company to preserve her records because "there wasn't really a reason at that point to suspect that it was someone she was having a relationship with."

But Stone said detectives could have asked the company to preserve the records "just in case."

Police didn't talk to Sneiderman's associates, either, until after Neuman's arrest.

Shayna Citron, one of Sneiderman's closest friends, testified during Neuman's trial that she felt from "Day One" that he had shot Rusty Sneiderman. Andrea Sneiderman had told her about his advances. Citron also testified she did not believe her friend's denial of an affair.

Grogan told the AJC that, as the case against Neuman took shape, his investigators came to believe that Andrea Sneiderman had lied about her relationship with the gunman. But he said their suspicions stopped there.

Nevertheless, he said, there was at least one moment when Andrea Sneiderman's behavior did give him pause: the day he and another officer went to tell her that police had made an arrest in the case.

A tape of the meeting shows that she chided the chief for making her nervous and took more than a minute to ask the name of the shooter.

Grogan said that as he left the Sneiderman's house, he turned to the other officer and said: "There's a whole lot more to this than meets the eye."