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BLOG | Sneiderman Trial Day 1: Opening Statements

11Alive's Julie Wolfe is filing daily blogs from behind the scenes in the Andrea Sneiderman Trial. 

The jurors that will determine Andrea Sneiderman's future include a former drill sergeant, a nurse, a PhD candidate, and a single dad. Between both tables, there are 10 attorneys, a defendant, and a paralegal. The courtroom was full of media and family for opening statements. (Both sides agreed to allow witnesses in for the opening statements.)

MORE | Complete gavel-to-gavel coverage of Andrea Sneiderman Trial

Assistant District Attorney for DeKalb County, Kellie Hill, took the opening statements for the prosecution side. Once she got rolling, Hill held the attention of the jurors telling them the evidence would show "she kept police from figuring out who shot her husband in cold blood outside her son's daycare". She told jurors Andrea Sneiderman and Hemy Neuman were in a romantic relationship "that ended in murder." Her opening statement dragged a bit when she walked the jurors through the main witnesses and what kind of evidence they could expect to see over the next three weeks, but picked up again towards the end. "She took this very witness stand (slaps wood railing) and vowed to tell the truth. That is not what she did. She continued to hide evidence and tell lies."

Defense attorney Tom Clegg took opening statements for the defense. He also did all of the questioning of witnesses on day one (compared to the prosecution, which split questioning between DA Robert James and ADA Anna Cross). He used the opening statement to paint a picture of a grieving wife, caught up by a 'witch hunt' prosecution (my words, not his). 'She ain't on trial for murder. No evidence suggests that she is," he said. "Everything will be based on inference, speculation, and a hunch. There is no evidence she has done anything wrong. It's a myth."  He says Rusty was the love of her life. Sure, there were some issues,  but they had gotten over them. He also addressed Hemy Neuman: "He was a pest, a nuisance, but not a threat."  The jurors started to get a glazed look when he brought out two charts. One showed Andrea Sneiderman's schedule, including references to several family plans after the murder. The other was a chart showing how often Sneiderman helped the Dunwoody Police Department in the search for her husband's murderer. I saw a couple of jurors squint to try to read the chart (I couldn't read it from the front bench). Since "props" used during opening statements aren't evidence, I expect the charts to come up again and be submitted as evidence. Introducing them now slowed things down and lost the attention of some jurors.

And then there were witnesses.

The first one was totally forgettable. Reiner Van Ede was soft-spoken, had a slight accent and had the unfortunate position of competing with some microphone feedback in the courtroom. From the way jurors leaned forward, squinting, I'm guessing they had just as hard of a time hearing him as I did. The one walk away: the human resources director said Andrea Sneiderman never reported sexual harassment.

Cathleen Gough works IT investigations with GE. She pulled emails between Neuman and Sneiderman. She was called to the stand repeatedly to present those emails in response to Andrea Sneiderman's original testimony. Although Andrea was (obviously) not called to the stand. Her testimony in the Hemy Neuman murder trial was one of the biggest pieces of evidence presented today.

Christine Olivera was a key witness for the state. She worked at a nightclub in Greenville, SC as a bartender and testified she saw Sneiderman and Neuman dancing and kissing the October before Rusty Sneiderman was murdered. There were a few laughs when DA Robert James wiggled his hips and used a podium to show how close the two were dancing. On cross-examination, Clegg's questions were hard and quick. He hammered Olivera on specific details, some of which she admitted she did not remember. She insisted she did remember the couple, the dance, and the kiss. "Were you watching them like hawks?' Clegg asked. 'Well, they were very entertaining.' Several jurors laughed out loud.

A detective from Longmont, Co. took the stand briefly to lay the foundation for the next witness, Brady Blackburn. He was working the front desk at the Hampton Inn. He testified to notes he  took to send Andrea chocolates and flowers. In those notes, he refers to them as a "newly married couple". The jury got a giggle when the notes included a "WTF am I supposed to do with this?" and an arrow to the name Hemy. 

After all of that, most of the behind the scenes talk was about a mystery man: 'the hugger'. After opening statements, Andrea Sneiderman had a long, tight embrace with a man we didn't recognize. By this point in the trial, we know most family members and lawyers by name. He identified himself to me as Perry Culiner. He said his son-in-law grew up with Rusty Sneiderman, and he was in court to show emotional support.  Because Andrea shows so little emotion, the moments she does are watched closely. This one seemed a little awkward, but the tension in courtroom between families is exactly that.