-- A rabbi was convicted of murder today for hiring two men to beat his wife to death with a pipe so he could carry on an affair with a woman he met while ministering to her dying husband. He could face a death sentence.

The verdict against Rabbi Fred J. Neulander, 61, came nearly a year after his first trial for the 1994 death of Carol Neulander ended in a hung jury.

The rabbi stood expressionless as the verdict was read, while his wife's brother and sister wept in the courtroom gallery. Jurors took 27 hours to find Neulander guilty of capital murder, felony murder and murder conspiracy.

The sentencing phase of the trial begins Thursday.

Neulander, a founder of Cherry Hill's large Congregation M'kor Shalom, took the stand last year to deny any role in the slaying. He said he and his 52-year-old wife had an "open marriage" in which they agreed to see other people.

"I was selfish and arrogant. I went beyond the bounds of the marriage," Neulander testified. "I betrayed Carol. I betrayed my family. I betrayed my synagogue. I betrayed my religion."

The rabbi did not testify this time.

Neulander was arrested in 1998 and charged with arranging the slaying. The charges were upgraded to capital murder two years later after a private investigator, Len Jenoff, came forward and said he and his roommate killed Carol Neulander at the rabbi's request for $30,000 and tried to make it look like a robbery. Jenoff was the prosecution's star witness.

Jenoff and his roommate, Paul Daniels, pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter and agreed to testify against Neulander. Both are awaiting sentencing.

Other key witnesses included Elaine Soncini, a Philadelphia radio host the rabbi met as he ministered to her husband on his deathbed.

Some jurors were moved to tears during the testimony of the couple's son, Matthew Neulander, who described arriving at the bloody scene and seeing his father showing no reaction to the death of his wife.

Rabbi Fred J. Neulander was convicted of having his wife slain so he could carry on an affair.