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Man Guilty of Killing His Ex-Wife

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A jury dominated by women convicted a Woodland Hills physician of first-degree murder Thursday, rejecting his claim that his former wife’s obsessive hounding for alimony and support drove him to fatally shoot her at the downtown civil courts building.

Debate over what was on Harry Zelig’s mind when he pulled out a pistol as he rode up a courthouse escalator Sept. 1, 1995, consumed the jury of nine women and three men for more than two days. On that day, a single shot caught Eileen Zelig, 40, in the neck, nicking her jugular vein as she clutched the hand of the couple’s 6-year-old daughter, Lisa. She died four hours later.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Mar. 08, 1997 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday March 8, 1997 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Zelig judge--A Feb. 28 story in The Times about Harry Zelig, a Woodland Hills physician convicted of murdering his former wife, incorrectly identified the judge presiding over the case. The judge was Edward A. Ferns.

In the end, Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven Slavitt said, jurors agreed that Zelig, 50, was a cold, selfish man who would do anything to avoid his responsibility--first failing to support his family, and later acting in a way that left his three children without a mother or father.

On the witness stand, Zelig portrayed himself as stressed-out and ailing, pushed to the brink by an obsessed woman who hounded him for money and taunted him about his sexual impotence. But he never explained why he pulled the gun from his suit jacket and fired.

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“At that point, it was God’s roll of the dice, and here we are,” Zelig testified.

“Here was a man who would not take responsibility,” Slavitt said. “It wasn’t God’s roll of the dice. It was Harry Zelig’s actions. Some of the jurors told me that really bothered them.”

Zelig killed his wife after meeting her at the courthouse for a hearing in their two-year divorce battle.

The previous day, Eileen Zelig had persuaded authorities to impound Zelig’s car, a battered sedan with the vanity tag “DR HARRY,” until he made about $4,000 in past-due support payments. He filed court papers to get the vehicle back.

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Zelig, a former consultant to the Medical Board of California, the licensing agency for physicians, never denied shooting his wife. But he sought a conviction on a lesser offense, such as second-degree murder or manslaughter, claiming that he acted in the heat of passion.

Defense attorney Ed Rucker argued that Zelig was plagued by health and financial problems, and snapped as his former wife continued to hound him for money.

The shooting exposed the lack of security in the courthouse, where contentious divorce and custody cases are heard. Although officials have purchased metal detectors and other weapons screening devices, they say the county budget crisis has left them without the funds to install the equipment.

Zelig faces 35 years to life in prison when Superior Court Judge Edward A. Feathers sentences him March 20.

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