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Ga. Supreme Court reverses Hemy Neuman conviction | News

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Ga. Supreme Court reverses Hemy Neuman conviction
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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. -- The Supreme Court of Georgia announced Monday it has reversed Hemy Neuman's conviction.

In a 6-to-1 decision, the high court ruled the trial judge erred by allowing the notes and records of two mental health experts who examined Neuman before his trial to be entered as evidence.

"Because the trial court erred in admitting evidence, which was protected by the attorney-client privilege, we now reverse," the opinion says.

Neuman was found guilty but mentally ill of gunning down Rusty Sneiderman outside a Dunwoody daycare center in November 2010. The State now has the option to retry Neuman, who is housed at Augusta State Medical Prison.

Erik Burton, spokesman for the DeKalb County District Attorney's Office, said the State is prepared to retry Neuman. Burton also said Neuman will remain in custody, as his request for bond was denied prior to trial, but Neuman has the right to seek reconsideration of his bond. DeKalb County Judge Gregory Adams will decide whether to grant or deny a bond request.

According to court documents, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Julie Rand Dorney and licensed psychologist Dr. Peter Thomas met with Neuman at his attorneys' request after his arrest and not guilty plea. After their evaluation, Neuman changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity.

RELATED | What's next for Hemy Neuman?

Both medical experts determined Neuman was unable to distinguish between right and wrong due to a mental illness diagnosed as "bipolar disorder with psychosis, experiencing delusions."

PHOTOS | The Hemy Neuman Trial

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A medical expert who testified for the State at the 2012 trial said he believed Neuman was malingering, or faking symptoms of mental illness. Another prosecution witness said Neuman showed no signs of mental illness or delusions after killing Sneiderman.

Despite objections from Neuman's defense team, State attorneys sought the records from Rand Dorney's and Thomas' meetings with Neuman. After two hearings, a judge ordered the defense to turn over all the doctors' notes and records to the State.

"We conclude that the trial court erred in disclosing to the State Dr. Rand Dorney's and Dr. Thomas' notes and records concerning Neuman," the high court's opinion says. "This evidence was not harmless, and therefore, we must reverse Neuman's conviction."

The State argued the doctors' communications with Neuman are neither confidential nor protected by attorney-client privilege. The Georgia Supreme Court rejected that claim, saying that before meeting with Rand Dorney and Thomas, Neuman signed a form that stated their examinations were not confidential and anything discussed could be admitted in court.

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Harold Melton was the only Georgia Supreme Court justice to offer a dissenting opinion. He argued the document Neuman signed specifically said anything in the medical experts' written reports could "be disclosed in court, without specifying that only Neuman's attorneys would be authorized to make such court disclosures."

Melton wrote he rejected the majority's conclusion "that the notes and records of Drs. Rand Dorney and Thomas were subject to the attorney-client privilege under the circumstances of this case."

Rusty Sneiderman's widow Andrea testified against Neuman during his trial. She worked for Neuman at General Electric; they were accused of having an affair -- a claim she denied on the stand. In a separate 2013 trial, Andrea Sneiderman was convicted of one count of hindering the apprehension of a criminal, one count of concealment of material facts, three counts of false statements and four counts of perjury. She was sentenced to five years in prison, but was released on parole last June.

"This case means so much for future people who are accused of crimes to have the confidence that they can speak to their attorney and that privilege will be protected," said J. Scott Key, an attorney for Neuman. "If they use a paralegal, or an investigator, an expert witness or a consultant -- that that is protected, that is sacred attorney-client privilege."

Neuman's attorneys said it's unlikely he'll be released before a new trial.

"Mr. Neuman has been determined to be mentally ill by a jury," said attorney Doug Peters. "We've never in this case asked for him to be released. He should not be released."

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The defense hopes that a new trial will lead to a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict. Neuman's attorneys have not disputed that Neuman killed Rusty Sneiderman. They've argued that he was driven to commit the crime by his alleged mistress Andrea Sneiderman.

Esther Panitch, former attorney for both Rusty Sneiderman's family and Hemy Neuman's ex-wife, released a statement shortly after the Georgia Supreme Court's decision was announced:

The families of the victims of Hemy and Andrea will handle this setback as they have every other in this painful saga -- with dignity and grace.

MORE | Hemy Neuman/Andrea Sneiderman stories

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