Confessed hitman Len Jenoff, serving a 23-year sentence for the murder of the wife of Cherry Hill Rabbi Fred Neulander, wants his conviction and sentence overturned.
Jenoff, the key prosecution witness against the rabbi in two trials, has claimed in papers filed in Camden County Superior Court that he was not properly represented by his defense attorney when he worked out a plea deal with prosecutors.
Jenoff, 62, pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter in the death of Carol Neulander, who was found beaten to death in her Cherry Hill home on Nov. 1, 1994.
Jenoff was represented by attorney Francis J. Hartman when he agreed to cooperate more than five years after the murder. In his filings, Jenoff alleges that Hartman was often inattentive at court proceedings and meetings in which his plea agreement was worked out.
Hartman has long been considered one of the top defense attorneys in South Jersey. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Jenoff's claim of ineffective counsel and his petition for post-conviction relief will be argued by his court-appointed counsel, Albert M. Afonso, as the issue moves forward.
Afonso said yesterday that there are several legal hurdles to be overcome but that the goal was to have a full evidentiary hearing.
The case is before Superior Court Judge Thomas A. Brown.
In a letter to acting Camden County Prosecutor Joshua Ottenberg in January, Jenoff claimed he was told he would receive a "minimal" jail term if he cooperated with authorities investigating the murder case.
Jenoff said the "sweetheart deal" he was promised was a five-year prison sentence. He also claimed in the letter that he tailored his testimony, which he described as "rehearsed and often false," to please investigators.
A spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office said yesterday that authorities had no comment on Jenoff's post-conviction relief arguments.
Jenoff, an inmate at Riverfront State Prison, repeated those allegations in a letter to a member of the media this month in which he included a copy of the letter sent to the prosecutor.
On the witness stand during two trials, Jenoff detailed how Fred Neulander promised him $30,000 if he would kill his wife. He said Neulander wanted his wife dead so he could marry his mistress, the radio personality Elaine Soncini.
Jenoff said he met the rabbi while attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at Neulander's synagogue, Congregation M'kor Shalom in Cherry Hill. He said he brought an accomplice, Paul Michael Daniels, into the murder plot. Jenoff and Daniels were living in a group home at the time. Both pleaded guilty and testified for the prosecution.
Jenoff said they were only paid $7,500 for the hit.
Neulander's first murder trial ended in a hung jury. Neulander was retried and convicted of first-degree murder in November 2002.
Neulander, 66, is serving a life sentence with a stipulation of no parole for 30 years. He has been in jail for about eight years.