NJ Supreme Court overturns mother’s conviction in murdering son 25 years ago


The New Jersey Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned the 2016 conviction of a Florida woman for killing her 5-year-old son 25 years earlier, ruling that despite the jury’s verdict, prosecutors had not presented enough evidence to prove that she had deliberately caused the boy’s death. .

It was a startling turnaround in one of New Jersey’s most infamous cases, which had not been resolved in years, even though Michelle Lodzinski was considered a prime suspect from the start after giving various accounts of this. that had happened the day Timothy Wiltsey was last seen.

It also means Lodzinski cannot be tried again, which would violate a ban on so-called “double jeopardy” or being tried twice for the same case, his lawyer Gerald Krovatin said.

“This is a great day for the rule of law and for the proposition that convictions should be based on evidence, not speculation or emotion,” he said. “Michelle is extremely grateful to everyone who supported her through this long ordeal.”

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Appeals Judge Jose Fuentes – called to the Supreme Court to serve as the deciding vote after judges split 3-3 while upholding Lodzinski’s conviction in May – cast the decisive vote in favor of acquittal on Tuesday .

“After considering all of the evidence and giving the State the benefit of all its favorable testimony and all favorable inferences drawn from that testimony, no reasonable jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Lodzinski had deliberately or knowingly caused Timothy’s death, ”the court wrote in its majority decision.

The prosecutor’s office that tried her declined to comment.

Lodzinski was a single mother in central New Jersey in May 1991 when she told investigators Wiltsey was missing while they were at a carnival in Sayreville. She then gave conflicting accounts describing strangers she had seen who may have kidnapped the boy. Wiltsey’s body was found almost a year later, in a swampy area near an office complex where Lodzinski had previously worked.

Over time and no charges were filed, Lodzinski moved on with his life and had two more children. She was living in Port St. Lucie, Florida in 2014 when authorities in New Jersey accused her of killing Wiltsey. Investigators said a breakdown in the case came when former Wiltsey babysitters identified a blue blanket, found with the boy’s body, as belonging to Lodzinski.

During her trial in 2016 and on appeal, Lodzinski’s lawyers argued that no forensic evidence linked her to the coverage and that prosecutors did not produce enough evidence to show Lodzinski had intentionally caused the death of the boy. The cause of death could not be determined as Wiltsey’s body had deteriorated between the time he died and the time the body was found.

“If you can’t find the cause of death, I think you don’t have homicide by definition,” Krovatin told the court during oral argument in October.

FILE – In this file photo from June 2, 2015, Michelle Lodzinski appears in court for a status conference in New Brunswick, the Supreme Court of NJ New Jersey said on Friday February 21, 2020 that she would hear the ‘Lodzinski appeal for the 1991 murder of his five-year

Prosecutors, who had described Lodzinski at trial as a troubled young mother who felt overwhelmed by the boy, argued on appeal that the totality of the evidence, including his evasive answers during the initial questioning, was sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. An appeals court gave its consent in 2019 when it upheld Lodzinski’s conviction.

The plot escalated after a deeply divided state Supreme Court ruling in May upheld the appeals court’s ruling. With Chief Justice Stuart Rabner not attending, the court split 3-3, but that was enough not to disrupt the conviction.

Writing at the time for the three dissenters, Judge Barry Albin wrote: “In the modern annals of New Jersey legal history, to my knowledge, no murder conviction has ever been upheld on such a shortage of evidence. “

In a dissenting opinion as part of Tuesday’s ruling, the three judges who voted in favor of the conviction said: “In our opinion, the majority is doing the opposite of what our law requires. “

In October, the state’s Supreme Court took the rare step of agreeing to rehear the case, conceding that it had committed a procedural error in ruling on an appeals court decision that applied a standard incorrect legal. For the new hearing, the court added an appeal judge to serve as a deciding vote.

“Even though the evidence suggested that Timothy did not die by accident, no testimony or evidence has been offered to distinguish whether Timothy died by the negligent, reckless or intentional or conscious acts of a person, even if that person was Lodzinski, ”the majority said. decision read.

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