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The Doctor's Daughter

Can a daughter's frantic 911 call convict or free her father from charges that he killed his wife?

Produced by Lourdes Aguiar, Allen Alter, Ruth Chenetz and Peter Shaw

[This story first aired on Oct. 3, 2015. It was updated on June 4, 2016.]

On the morning of Sept. 17, 2012, inside a grand home outside of Syracuse, New York, a disturbing scene was unfolding as 23-year-old Jenna Neulander frantically called 911:

Jenna Neulander: Is someone coming?

911 Operator: Yes, they are, they're en route ...

Jenna Neulander: my mom, my mom, my mom ...

911 Operator: Is she moving ... Jenna, Jenna...?

Jenna Neulander: Oh my god.

Jenna's father, Dr. Robert Neulander, had screamed to her for help. He said he just found his wife on the floor of the bathroom shower. Within minutes, paramedics arrived at the house. Leslie Neulander, 61, had suffered a massive head wound. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

"You get a call, 'fall in the shower,' you show up expecting to see the accident victim near the shower,: "48 Hours"correspondent Jim Axelrod commented to former DeWitt, N.Y. Police Sergeant Scott Kapral.

"That's right," he replied. "The expectations are that she's going to be there in the shower or immediately right outside the shower."

Instead, Kapral found Leslie Neulander in the bedroom, on the floor, close to the bed.

"I walk into the actual bedroom," Kapral continued."...and that's when I catch all the blood."

Kapral noticed blood in different areas of the bedroom: pooled on the rug and spattered on the wall next to the bed.

"My radar's going off -- as far as saying, ' We need to answer why -- why all this blood is here,'" he said.

Kapral had plenty of questions, but Dr. Neulander seemed to have all the answers. Telling investigators that after finding Leslie on the shower floor, he carried her out of the bathroom, some 60 feet into the bedroom, where he could more comfortably perform CPR -- something he did despite Jenna's protests:

Jenna Neulander on 911 call: Daddy, don't move her! Daddy, stop moving her please!

"As he's relaying the story about what had occurred and as the medical examiner's digesting it and we're all digesting it, his actual story of step-by-step process ... fit the pattern of where you saw these different pools of blood," said Kapral.

The medical examiner on the scene examined Leslie's injuries and ruled they matched up with Dr. Neulander's account. The death: a tragic accident. The report read, "Blunt force head injuries due to fall from standing height." Leslie Neulander died from hitting her head on the shower bench.

"The whole thing was odd. The whole thing was out of character with a fall in the shower," said Kapral.

"You've been a cop 20 years, had you ever seen a head trauma like that before?" Axelrod asked.

"Well not from a fall," Kapral replied. "But as we're listening to the medical examiner explain what he feels could've happened, you know, we're not physicians, we're not forensic pathologists, we're police officers, we're investigators ... So, we certainly defer to him."

The account of Jenna Neulander, an eyewitness, seemed to back up the medical examiner's ruling that this was an accident when police interviewed her as part of their routine investigation:

Jenna Neulander police interview: I see him actually carrying her...

Jenna Neulander police interview: He was like putting his face up to her to see if she was breathing.

The death of Leslie Neulander shook the community.

Leslie Neulander
Leslie Neulander

Mary Jumbelic was a good friend of the Neulanders.

"Everyone knew the Neulanders," she said. "They seemed like the perfect couple, the perfect marriage, the perfect family really. ...Leslie was a fabulous woman. Very vivacious, energetic, unpretentious."

"She was switched on," Axelrod noted.

"Yes," Jumbelic said. "I know people always speak well of the dead, but truly, this was her personality, to be so giving and alive."

Leslie and Robert gave generously - both their time and money. They were well known for their philanthropy. Their social prominence dovetailed with Robert Neulander's professional standing as one of the most highly regarded gynecologists and obstetricians in the Syracuse area.

"He delivered a lot of babies around here," said Axelrod.

"Many, many with a lot of good feelings toward the care he gave those patients for many, many years," said Jumbelic.

Julie Crosby, who worked with Dr. Neulander assisting pregnant women, says patients were drawn to his supportive demeanor.

"My interactions with Dr. Neulander were joyful -- were these wonderful things that were happening ... welcoming their baby, becoming a family," she explained.

"I found Dr. Neulander to be compassionate, kind ... knowledgeable," said Crosby.

That caring way, say those who knew them best, was a defining value for this tightly-knit family.

The closeness is plain to see in videotaped birthday tributes for Robert and Leslie, made by their children, Emily and Brian, from Robert's first marriage, and Ari and Jenna from the couple's 28-year marriage. Mixed with loving teasing for their mother, is a deep appreciation.

"Thank you for being you. I love you," Ari Neulander said on the video.

The Neulanders' thoughtfulness was something Jumbelic experienced firsthand after becoming gravely ill, with an infection, while on vacation in the Czech Republic in the summer of 2012.

"I was in a coma and then in the hospital for three weeks," she explained.

When she finally returned home, the first neighbors to check on her were the Neulanders.

"I remember hugging everybody and I remember Leslie saying, 'We're so glad that you made it,'" Jumbelic recalled.

Just two days later, Jumbelic received the devastating news: Leslie was dead -- a freak accident, she'd slipped in the shower.

"I couldn't believe that she had just been to see me and tell me how grateful she is that I'm alive, and she's dead. It was shocking. It was overwhelming," she said.

"And what did you think about that?" Axelrod asked.

"Well at the time I thought ... I guess that can happen, even to a 61-year-old very healthy, athletic person," Jumbelic replied.

That was the same conclusion Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick reached when he first heard about Leslie's death. He believed it was a tragic accident--until a few months later, when a tip changed everything.

ACCIDENT OR MURDER?

Three months after Leslie Neulander's sudden death, Mary Jumbelic began getting some unusual calls from friends.

"What are they saying?"Jim Axelrod asked.

"'We don't think it was an accident," said Jumbelic.

And who better to share their concerns with than a forensic scientist. For 11 years, Dr. Mary Jumbelic was the county's chief medical examiner until she retired in 2009.

"My focus for my entire career has been to speak for the dead," she said.

Dr. Jumbelic listened carefully. There were questions about all that blood and whispers about the Neulanders' personal life.

"Are you hearing about a troubled marriage?" Axelrod asked Jumbelic. "Are you hearing about financial problems?"

"Yes," she replied to both questions.

Dr. Robert Neulander
Dr. Robert Neulander
Syracuse Post-Herald

In recent years, Dr. Neulander's thriving practice had been derailed by a battle with an insurance company and he was now delivering half the number of babies he had previously.

Dr. Jumbelic was reluctant to get involved, but she finally picked up the phone and called her old colleague, D.A. Bill Fitzpatrick.

"Did you feel in some way you were betraying the Neulanders?" Axelrod asked Dr. Jumbelic.

"I felt I was responding to gossip," she replied.

As it turns out, the D.A. had also been hearing things. He'd received an anonymous letter just before Jumbelic's call suggesting a different side to Dr. Neulander.

"That he's not the, you know, the good guy that people are making him out to be," Fitzpatrick said. "Leslie was trying to break away from this guy."

Jumbelic's initial hope was that she could soon put all the speculation to rest.

"And she volunteers, you know, pro bono to take a look at the case, and would I make the file available to her, and I said, 'absolutely,'" said Fitzpatrick.

"As you began to look at this file, what jumped out at you?" Axelrod asked Jumbelic.

"The severity of the injuries, compared to the explanation," she replied.

Leslie Neulander had suffered a penetrating wound towards the back of her head so severe the blood pooled in her eye.

"Had you seen head wounds like this before?" Axelrod asked Jumbelic.

"Of course," she said.

"In what kind of cases?"

"Car accidents, falls from 20-story buildings. Beatings," Jumbelic replied.

Asked what might cause this type of injury, Jumbelic said. "A heavy object of some sort."

"You're talking about getting hit with some object?" Axelrod asked.

"Yes," Jumbelic affirmed.

"What do you tell the district attorney after reviewing the file?"

"That this is a homicide. Blunt head trauma from an assault," said Jumbelic.

Half a year after Leslie Neulander's death, the investigation picked up steam. Police revisited the death scene to collect more evidence from the now unoccupied Neulander home, which had been sold.

"One of the things we find .... is -- blood all over the back of the headboard on the bed," Scott Kapral said. "We also found blood -- spatter on the -- blinds that were behind the bed."

Dr. Neulander was living in a new apartment which was also searched. By now, he had retained one of the best criminal defense lawyers in the city, Edward Menkin.

"This has been an open secret and a subject of gossip and irresponsible rumor now for months. Dr. Neulander has not been charged with any kind of offense," Menkin told a local reporter covering the case.

Menkin assured the D.A. that his client had nothing to hide. So much so that 15 months after Leslie's death, Dr. Neulander, now retired, voluntarily sat for an interview with prosecutors and investigators -- even acknowledging there's been problems in their marriage:

District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick: But you were sleeping separately? OK. What was the reason for that?

Dr. Robert Neulander: We had thought about a trial separation.


Yet, Robert Neulander portrays the home as peaceful and loving, despite the issues in their marriage. The night before Leslie died, the couple, along with their son Ari and daughter Jenna had a family dinner at a friend's home. Afterwards, Ari headed back to his college dorm and Jenna went back home with her parents.

Robert and Leslie Neulander
Robert and Leslie Neulander

"We said good night to each other and we loved each other and everybody kissed and went to their respective bedrooms," Neulander told the D.A. during the interview.

Dr. Neulander tells the D.A. that early the next morning, he went for a jog at a nearby state park, Green Lakes, and then brought Leslie her usual cup of morning coffee when he got back: "The shower is on," he said. "I hear the water running and I place it on the nightstand."

About an hour later, he says, he returned to check on Leslie and there she was: lying on the shower floor. Dr. Neulander says he started CPR and tried to call 911, but the bathroom phone wasn't working. So he ran toward Jenna's bedroom yelling for her to call 911. The time: 8:25 a.m:

Jenna Neulander to 911: OK. My mother, I don't know if she's breathing. She's laying on the ground in the shower.

He said he then went back to Leslie and began to move her."He says he can't see ... the lighting is not very good in the bathroom," Fitzpatrick told Axelrod.

Jenna Neulander during 911 call: Dad put her down! Her neck might be broken!

He then put Leslie down just outside the bathroom to give her mouth-to-mouth, before moving her again.

Jenna Neulander during 911 call: Daddy, don't move her! Daddy, stop moving her please!

"I don't know at what age we all learn that you don't move somebody with a serious head or neck injury, but we all know it. And here's a guy that's been practicing medicine for 30 years," said Fitzpatrick.

Finally, Dr. Neulander says he placed his wife next to the bed to continue CPR.

"There's ... more red flags than a bull fight going off in my head when I hear that story for the first time," Fitzpatrick commented.

Fitzpatrick develops his own theory that, hours before that 911 call, Dr. Neulander assaulted his wife in the bedroom and then likely chased her into the bathroom.

"I think that he struck her on that shower bench," Fitzpatrick told Axelrod. "... she may have already been in the process of dying at that point."

Fitzpatrick believes Neulander made up the story of finding Leslie in the shower and called for Jenna so he'd have a witness as he carried his wife back to the bedroom.

"What do you think he was doing when he was moving her?" Axelrod asked.

"I think now, he has got to explain the blood trail from the assault that took place in the bedroom that eventually made its way into the bathroom and he's gotta do it in reverse," Fitzpatrick replied. "...he had to move that body himself to explain that blood."

As for the blood spattered in the bedroom, the D.A. believes Dr. Neulander didn't realize some of it was there because the violence took place before the sun was up."And don't forget he's committing this crime -- it's dark. He doesn't know where all the blood is," said Fitzpatrick.

But if Leslie Neulander was attacked in her bedroom, why were the sheets nearly pristine? The couple's long-time housekeeper provided a clue to investigators.

"She looked at the bed and got upset and said ... 'Those are not the sheets that were on that bed that Friday.' She was very confident of that," said former DeWitt, N.Y. Police Sergeant Scott Kapral.

The D.A. believes that Dr. Neulander got rid of the sheets and the weapon on that alleged morning run.

"I think the murder weapon is at the bottom of Green Lake somewhere along with the -- the missing sheets," said Fitzpatrick.

With evidence now mounting, the medical examiner changed his original report from accidental death to homicide.

Nearly two years after Leslie Neulander's death, her husband, Dr. Robert Neulander, was charged with her murder.

"...the defendant ... moved the body of Leslie Neulander after her death ... to make it appear as if she had died from an accidental fall in the shower," D.A. Fitzpatrick told reporters.

But Dr. Neulander's family says Fitzpatrick has it all wrong. Leslie's own children stand united with the man accused of murdering their mother.

ANALYZING THE BLOOD EVIDENCE

In March of 2015, two-and-a-half years after the death of Leslie Neulander, high drama was about to unfold in the Onondaga County Courthouse.

"It has all the elements....the rich defendant ... the beautiful wife and the mystery surrounding it," Fitzpatrick said. "...the elements of was it a homicide? Was it an accident? ...So it was huge for this community."

Not only was a prominent doctor on trial, but he had two formidable attorneys battling over his guilt or innocence.

"People were stopping you on the street. You know, 'Hey Fitz...how's it look?' Or 'Go get em' or 'I hope you lose,'" the D.A. said.

Ed Menkin spoke to local reporters, but declined "48 Hours" request for an interview.

"I have never had a client whose innocence I believe in more firmly than him," defense attorney Ed Menkin told the reporter.

"48 Hours" asked retired local attorney Jim Stevens to explain the defense's case.

"If either of them finds blood in the water, they go right for it," said Stevens, a CBS News consultant who attended the trial.

"It was gonna be riveting," Stevens explained. "It was a top-notch trial all the way around."

Jenna and Dr. Robert Neulander arrive to court.
Jenna and Dr. Robert Neulander arrive to court.
Syracuse Post-Herald

Each day in court began with the same scene in the hallways. Free on $100,000 bail, the doctor would arrive flanked not only by his children, but by Leslie's sister and brother.

"He didn't do it. That's the message. It was not a crime," said Stevens.

The State has bigger hurdles to contend with than just images; prosecutors have no weapon and no clear-cut motive.

"Is it risky to go to a jury without those things?" Axelrod asked Fitzpatrick.

"Sure, sure. I mean juries, you know, they're not that different than you and I. They want answers," he replied.

Fitzpatrick believes the evidence--like the blood spatter in the bedroom-- will prove

this was no accident and has enlisted the help of forensic scientist Karen Green to make his case.

"Bloodstains can tell you a lot," Axelrod noted to Green.

"They can tell you a lot and they are associated with just about every crime scene that we go to," she said.

There were no cameras in the courtroom so "48 Hours" asked Green to take us through her blood spatter analysis.

"There was spatter on the headboard, there was spatter on the items on the nightstand just south of the bed, there was spatter on the blinds above the bed, and there was spatter on the south wall that was about seven feet to the south of the bed," said Green.

Diagram of blood spatter on the south wall of the master bedroom.
Diagram of blood spatter on the south wall of the master bedroom.
Onondaga County, N.Y. Prosecutor's Office


"Tell us about the south wall, we've been referencing it. What are the two spatters that are marked SBD 1?" Axelrod asked.

"That's an area where we saw over 100 spatter stains," said Green.

The prosecution contends that the spatter was primarily something called impact spatter -- created when Leslie was attacked in the bedroom. To help better understand the terminology, we built a set and supplied Karen Green with stage blood to give us a rudimentary lesson.

"When we talk about impact spatter, what does that mean?" Axelrod asked.

"So impact spatter is force applied to liquid blood. So, I'm going to pour some of our artificial blood into my hand, and I'm gonna punch it, and that's force going into a blood source," said Green.

"The force impacts the blood and the blood spatters."

"Yes, and the blood breaks up into smaller drops," Green demonstrated by punching her fist into her palm, the liquid spattering onto a Plexiglas wall.

"But again, it's impact ... that's one way blood gets out," said Axelrod.

"Yeah," Green said as she clapped again. "You can see how it's radiating out. We have some smaller stains with some directionality up to the top."

For the Neulander case, Green conducted various experiments to recreate the spatter in the bedroom - going so far as placing a rock covered in plastic and a wig on a bed to simulate Leslie's head.

"I had a location that was similar to the Neulander bedroom with the slanted ceiling. ...I used all the measurements that were in the scene, the approximate height of the bed, I had a nightstand. ...And then I put liquid blood and I impacted it," Green explained. "I just wanted to verify that an impact on or near the south side of the bed could create spatter six or seven feet away in the same distribution."

"And could it?" Axelrod asked.

"I was able to recreate with -- an impact event, an impact scenario -- all of the spatter that I saw in this bedroom," Green replied.

The defense mocked Green's methods, which they said amounted to nothing more than "whacking a mannequin over the head."

The defense had its own blood spatter expert. He testified that it was not possible to determine if Leslie Neulander's death was an accident or homicide, because the investigation had been flawed: there were not enough close-up pictures of the blood. Some of the evidence in question -- like the headboard and the blinds -- had been collected months after the incident and emergency personnel had walked all over the scene. In fact, the defense suggested that EMTs may have been responsible for some of the blood spatter.

"The first responders probably had blood on their hands and that the gloves were just peeled off. And in so doing, the blood flies from the gloves and you don't have an impact but you have a cast off," Stevens explained.

The defense also argued that the blood could have been cast off by Dr. Neulander himself. The doctor said he'd been wearing a long sleeved shirt that became so wet and bloody as he tried to frantically save his wife's life that he pulled it off.

"And that those spatters by the bed were caused by him removing his shirt," said Stevens.

Fitzpatrick scoffs at those theories, pointing out that paramedics are trained to carefully remove their gloves -- and that no shirt or gloves could account for the amount of blood in that room.

"Doesn't explain any of the blood," he said. "It's a significant amount of blood."

But the defense insists that it was an accident and that there may have been a good reason why Leslie Neulander fell that morning: she suffered from vertigo, a dizziness disorder. Leslie's personal trainer told the jury that Leslie's condition had grown worse and her sister, Joanne London-Leslie, testified that it ran in the family and that she herself suffered from it.

"The idea of her sister testifying, is that affecting your view of the case?" Axelrod asked Stevens.

"Sure," he replied. "Why wouldn't she be madder than hell? And why wouldn't she be saying, 'I'm not testifying for you. What are you crazy? You killed my sister.'"

To bolster their case of an accidental death, the defense hired Dr. Daniel Spitz, a medical examiner working in Michigan, who's seen more than his share of traumatic head injuries.

"His testimony basically is that ... the massive head wound that caused her death was a result of her falling in the shower against the stone bench," said Stevens.

"If Leslie sustained an injury in the shower by her head striking a stone bench, what does this do for Dr. Neulander's defense?" Axelrod asked Stevens.

"A home run," he replied.

But the prosecution countered that Leslie suffered at least two blows to her skull and that the wound was not consistent with her head striking a straight edge like a stone shower bench.

A model of Leslie Neulander's head injuries
A model of Leslie Neulander's head injuries
Onondaga County N.Y. Prosecutor's Office

"It should be, like, a simple linear fracture-- with some bleeding underneath of it. But you don't get the complex depressed fracture like this," Dr. Mary Jumbelic told Axelrod, referencing the image shown above.

Dr. Jumbelic did not testify at trial, but consulted with the prosecution. Leslie's other injuries, they say, also don't add up to a slip and fall.

"There were abrasions, scrapes of the skin, on her cheek, bruising on her nose, more on the left side of her cheek as well. Bruising and scraping on her neck," she said.

"If she slipped and fell in the shower, why aren't there any injuries to her back and legs? Her knees? Her elbows?" Fitzpatrick asked.

Critical to the prosecution's case: not just how Leslie Neulander died, but when. Dr. Spitz estimated Leslie died around 7:30 a.m. But the D.A. makes the case that her death could have occurred as early as 4:15 a.m., which fits his theory of a pre-dawn assault.

"The time of death is absolutely inconsistent with the defendant's story," said Fitzpatrick.

There is now just one more witness left to testify -- the doctor's daughter. What did she see that terrible morning?

A DAUGHTER'S TESTIMONY

"The day that Jenna was to testify, the spectators were lined up in anticipation of what she was going to say," said Jim Stevens.

Two-and-a-half years after Jenna Neulander's beloved mother, Leslie, died, the now 25-year-old devoted daughter is about to take the stand to defend her father.

"There was no doubt there was pain in that courtroom when she testified," said Stevens.

"She's trying to secure her father's freedom and she's dealing with the death of her mother," Axelrod noted.

"Right," Stevens said. "I don't know how she got on the stand to do it."

"She's the only other eyewitness," Bill Fitzpatrick said. "She's very, very important to the outcome of this case.

With all eyes on her, Jenna tearfully describes the mother she lost.

"She was genuinely upset and mournful about testifying. The testimony forced her to bring some memories to the surface of her mother who she clearly loved very, very much," said Fitzpatrick.

Jenna then tells the jury what happened in the Neulander's home in the hours before her mother died. She says she was with her mom in Leslie's bedroom until 2 a.m., and Jenna clearly remembers the sheets on her mother's bed that night. She says they're the same ones in the death scene photos ... sheets the housekeeper said had been changed.

neulanderbedroom770.jpg
Onondaga County, N.Y. Prosecutor's Office

"The changing of the sheets was a significant issue. I mean why would you change the sheets? You change the sheets because there was blood on it," said Stevens.

"No bloody sheets, there's no impact event--" Axelrod pointed out.

"Right, on the bed," said Stevens.

Jenna Neulander to 911: I need to go over there to see if she's OK.

Then there's perhaps the most critically important piece of evidence. The later part of the 911 call:

Jenna Neulander to 911: I need to put you on hold, I'm not, it's like a house phone.

Jenna put the call on hold in her mother's office to get closer to the bathroom where Leslie was:

Jenna Neulander to 911: Oh my god, there's blood everywhere...

Both sides argue Jenna's cry -- " there's blood everywhere" -- is key and supports their case.

To demonstrate the arguments, "48 Hours" made an animation of parts of the Neulander home, based on evidence the prosecution presented at trial. The prosecution believes, as Jenna was running into the bathroom, she passes a trail of blood that could not yet exist unless Robert Neulander attacked Leslie earlier in the bedroom and then left her in the shower.

"She has passed the entrance to the bathroom where there's a significant amount of blood on the wall that could've only come from Leslie's head," Fitzpatrick explained, "perhaps by being pushed against that wall or perhaps being chased.

The D.A. says Jenna then grabbed the landline phone in the water closet to reconnect with 911, and yells, "there's blood everywhere."

"You're saying it's a big deal how she even phrased, 'Oh my god, there's blood everywhere?' That her mother's not part of that sentence?" Axelrod asked.

"Exactly," Fitzpatrick replied. "Her initial response ... would have been, 'Oh my God, my mother's bleeding, my mother's on the ground.' She would have referenced what she was seeing."

Fitzpatrick believes Jenna drops the phone and the call captures, seconds later, the exact moment when she first sees her mom: as Dr. Neulander starts to carry Leslie's body around the corner, out of the shower and into Jenna's view. It is then she lets loose a cry of pure anguish:

Jenna Neulander on 911 call: "Oh my god, oh my god, my mother! My mommy!

"As painful as it is to listen to, it is inconceivable that that call is anything other than a declaration of guilt against her father," said Fitzpatrick.

But the defense says the same call proves Dr. Neulander's innocence --that when Jenna runs into the bathroom, there is no blood on the walls yet. Jenna testifies she picks up the phone by the toilet, drops it because it isn't working while rushing to help her father. They carry her mother to an area right outside the bathroom and Jenna says it is at that point, she takes a cordless phone from her mother's dressing room, and reconnects with the 911 operator. In the defense view, this is when Jenna sees blood on, and around, her mother. This is when she yells, "There's blood everywhere..."

"The defense's take on that is that her mother is present, in front of her, and she's reacting to her mother, the blood that's on her mother and maybe blood on the wall and on the floor as well," said Stevens.

"Jenna was asked on the stand, 'Did you see blood on your way to the water closet?'" said Axelrod.

"Correct," said Stevens.

"She answered what?"

"She said, 'No.'"

"That supports the notion that the first time she saw blood, she was looking at her mother," Axelrod noted to Stevens.

"Correct," he replied.

The D.A, though, doesn't believe Jenna could do everything she claims to have done during the 13 seconds the 911 call was on hold. Fitzpatrick tried it himself and says it took him about 50 seconds.

"It's not physically possible to do that in 13 seconds. It's not even a close question," he said.

There is one other part of Jenna's testimony that may be crucial. She tells the jury that as her father was tending to her mother in the bedroom, she saw him take off a blood-soaked shirt and throw it to the side. Now remember, the defense suggested that tossing this bloody shirt may have caused some of the blood spatter in the bedroom. But the shirt has never been found.

"There isn't a single witness that saw him with a long-sleeved shirt on other than Jenna," said Fitzpatrick.

"If we injected Jenna Neulander with truth serum and said, 'Did your father kill your mother? '" said Axelrod.

"She would say no," Fitzpatrick said. "I don't think in her mind Jenna believes that her father did this. I think she's created a protective world in her mind where mom slipped and fell in the shower."

But the question now isn't what Jenna believes ... it's what the jury believes.

"I'm worried that they're having an emotional reaction to the agony of this girl. ...They know that this girl wants them to vote not guilty. And they know that this 60-plus-year-old defendant is unlikely to reoffend," Fitzpatrick explained. "And all of those emotions can play to the detriment of case that to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

THE VERDICT

After eight grueling days of testimony, District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick addressed the jury one last time for closing arguments, asking them to pay close attention to the physical evidence -- specifically the blood spatter on the walls and the injuries to Leslie Neulander's body.

"As I said many times in the trial, Leslie will speak to you, ladies and gentlemen. You have to listen to her," he told Axelrod. "And to also listen carefully to the words of Jenna Neulander in that critical 911 call."

Jenna Neulander to 911: Oh my god, there's blood everywhere...

"It proves his guilt beyond any shadow of a doubt," said Fitzpatrick.

But there's one thing the D.A. could not share with the jury: what he suspects was the motive that sent Robert Neulander into a murderous rage that morning. Investigators learned from a friend of the Neulander family that Leslie was planning on signing a lease for a new apartment on the day she died.

"Leslie was on her way out. And this is not a guy that can deal with that," Fitzpatrick told Axelrod.

But this was not presented at trial, Fitzpatrick says, because the memory of that witness changed. She later said the apartment was for both Leslie and Robert. Ed Menkin strongly denies these accusations and insists there was no motive.

"In the summation he didn't just say not guilty, he said innocent," Axelrod said to Stevens.

"Innocent. He said innocent throughout," he replied.

The jury would deliberate for three days before alerting the judge they had reached a verdict. Robert Neulander returned to the courthouse once again arm-in-arm with his family, the pain etched on his children's faces.

Two-and-a-half years after Leslie Neulander's death, the jury found Robert Neulander guilty of her murder. A heartbroken Jenna broke the silence of the hushed courtroom-- crying out to her father, "I was there. You didn't do it"

Outside the courtroom, a visibly shaken Ed Menkin addressed the media.

"Bob Neulander is the most honorable person I have ever met. This case has been a travesty from start to finish. It is not finished," he told reporters.

And so, the Neulander children turned to attorney Gerald Shargel -- legendary for his defense of mob boss John Gotti -- to handle their father's appeal. Shargel wasted little time calling for a hearing to throw out Neulander's conviction, alleging there was serious juror misconduct.

In the spotlight is juror Johnna Lorraine. According to an alternate juror, Lorraine had received texts and other communications about the case during trial - against Judge Miller's orders not to discuss the case.

A search of the accused juror's phone revealed that she had received some potentially prejudicial texts, including one from her father that read "make sure he's guilty." But weeks later, the judge upheld Dr. Neulander's conviction pointing out that the juror had been undecided in the early stages of deliberations, and in the end he said she took her role seriously.

Almost four months after the verdict, sentencing would finally commence.

[Dr. Robert Neulander's children, Jenna, Ari, Emily and Brian, arrive to court for the sentencing of their father.
[Dr. Robert Neulander's children, Jenna, Ari, Emily and Brian, arrive to court for the sentencing of their father.
Syracuse Post-Herald

With family photos on display, the Neulander children returned to the courthouse. For the first time, cameras were allowed in court.

Facing a maximum sentence of 25 years to life, Neulander's family begged the judge for the minimum sentence of 15 years. Leslie's sister, Joanne London-Leslie, spoke on the family's behalf.

"Had any of us, even slightly suspected foul play of any sort, we would not be here today on Bob's behalf," she said.

And then it was time for Robert Neulander to address the court.

Dr. Neulander addresses the court at his sentencing.
Dr. Neulander addresses the court at his sentencing.

"My head is unbowed by the verdict of this court, for an innocent man has been wrongfully convicted. ...I would not and did not take a life," he said. "I love my wife Leslie very much, and I mourn her every day, now and forever."

The judge sentenced Robert Neulander to 20 years-to-life in a New York state prison.

"In the jury's eyes, Dr. Neulander, you intentionally murdered your wife, and then attempted to use your own daughter to cover it up. Your daughter who most clearly adores you, which is as diabolical as it gets," said Judge Thomas J. Miller.

As Dr. Neulander is escorted out of the courtroom to begin his sentence, Jenna called out, "I love you Daddy."

The Neulander children have now lost not only their mother, but their father as well.

"I hate what this has done to Jenna. That's probably the most painful thing of all," Dr. Mary Jumbelic said. "He brought Jenna into that process. He made her a witness for his own purposes. And that is cruel."

But Jumbelic knows she has also played a role in their suffering.

"Do you have any regrets about your involvement in the case?" Axelrod asked.

"No. ...this is probably the hardest thing I've ever done in my whole career. However, it was the right thing to do," she replied. "We are finally giving Leslie the acknowledgement of what happened to her."


Robert Neulander plans to appeal his conviction.