Mother sentenced in case that still haunts many


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Staff Writer

NEW BRUNSWICK — In 1991, best friends Tara Packard and Timothy “Timmy” Wiltsey, who were both 5 years old at the time, had a secret code to speak to one another when they were home — by knocking on the adjoining wall that their duplex home in South Amboy shared.

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On May 26, 1991, Packard, after learning her best friend went missing, scurried inside her closet, knocked on the wall and put her ear to the wall.

There was silence. Timmy did not knock back this time.

Packard shared her treasured memory of her one-time childhood friend through a letter to the court during Michelle Lodzinski’s sentencing in Middlesex County Superior Court in New Brunswick on Jan. 5.

On May 18, 2016, a jury panel of seven men and five women, found Lodzinski, 49, formerly of South Amboy, guilty of killing her 5-year-old son Timmy in 1991 and dumping his body in a creek off Olympic Drive in Raritan Center, Edison.

After hearing arguments from Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Christie Bevacqua and Gerald Krovatin, attorney for Lodzinski, on an appropriate sentence, Superior Court Judge Dennis Nieves spoke one-on-one with Lodzinski before sentencing her to a 30-year prison sentence.

Lodzinski, wearing green garb, stood quietly clasping her hands together. She did not address the court.

“Did you read Tara Packard’s letter?” asked Nieves to Lodzinski.

Lodzinski said she had not. Nieves told her she should read it.

“[Timmy] was 5 years old … that little kid was a blessing to the community,” he said.

Nieves told Lodzinski that one thing stands out in his mind above all the information that was displayed during the three-month trial.

“The skull of your son in the ditch with animal feces on it, which I’ll never forget,” he said.

Nieves spoke about their trip to Olympic Drive in Raritan Center in Edison before the trial started where Timmy’s remains were found 25 years ago.

The prosecution had requested the judge to consider letting the jury see where Timmy’s remains were found.

“It was raining cats and dogs, there was garbage to discarded furniture,” Nieves recalled. “I said, ‘No’ … the jury can’t see this.’”

Nieves told Lodzinski that Krovatin “fought like hell” for her and he ruled on many motions attacking her credibility in her favor to make sure she had a fair trial, which included information about her criminal history of faking her own kidnapping to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the 1990s.

“The jury believed them (the state) even without hearing that information,” he told Lodzinski. “Because you lied, lied, you lied again, you lied, you lied and you lied … that’s what happened here.”

Nieves said rarely does the court have the opportunity to see a case that happened so long ago.

“Good people do bad things,” he said. “There are negatives and positives … I feel bad for [Timmy’s] father [George Wiltsey]. Yes, there was the issue about him being verbally abusive [to Lodzinski]. I think about this little kid [who] could have these family reunions with cousins, aunts, uncles … this little kid missed out.”

Wiltsey wrote a letter to the court, which Bevacqua read in its entirety during her argument.

He wrote that he was horrified when sheriff’s officers came knocking at his door to tell him his firstborn son was dead in 1991.

“I know for a fact that Timmy would still be here if he was raised in Iowa,” Wiltsy wrote. “Timmy will not be forgotten and I will love him forever.”

Iowa is where Wiltsey and Lodzinski spent the first six months of Timmy’s life together.

Wiltsey noted that Timmy has 23 first cousins, 28 second cousins, many aunts and uncles and a grandmother.

Nieves told Lodzinski he believes she was a good mother to Timmy, but she made bad choices with boyfriends and a number of other things.

“Timmy is not here,” he said. “You have two little boys, who are extraordinary and have grown into beautiful young men. They are good kids.”

Nieves said it is fortunate that Lodzinski’s sister, Linda Hisey, has stepped up and has been taking care of the boys in Florida. He said he hopes for the best for the oldest son, who aspires to enter the military and for the youngest to get a scholarship into school.

In any case, Nieves said Lodzinski should be proud of the amazing community in Middlesex County as well as the state of New Jersey who helped scour Kennedy Park in Sayreville when she reported Timmy missing.

“Everybody was looking, everybody,” he said almost at a whisper.

Nieves handed Lodzinski a 30-year prison sentence, the minimum sentence permitted under the law.

With 884 days credited toward her sentence, Lodzinski will be eligible for parole in her mid-70s after she serves 27 years and five months in prison.

Krovatin had argued for the minimum sentence, which he said would be more than sufficient for the life that Lodzinski has led for the past 25 years.

He said an extraordinary range of people from family members, co-workers, employers to fellow inmates through 30 letters spoke fondly about Lodzinski. One woman, who said in a letter that she has known Lodzinski for six years, was in the courtroom.

A fellow inmate wrote that Lodzinski was like a den mother for fellow inmates. She is the person who would listen to their problems, the inmate said.

The state argued to impose a life prison term. With a slide show of Timmy’s photos playing basketball and with his kindergarten classmates at St. Mary’s School in South Amboy, Bevacqua said Lodzinski brought Timmy into the world and took him out.

“She had the opportunity as his mother, [Timmy] was vulnerable to her and it was easy for her to kill him,” she said.

Bevacqua said no one was in court to speak for Timmy, but she read letters from Packard and Wiltsey. Packard remembers her friend as an outspoken, honest 5-year-old, almost precocious.

Aside from the secret code memory, Packard wrote about a story of a birthday cake that was awful and Timmy being the outspoken, honest little boy he was, blatantly stated, “This cake is awful,” making a silly face to go with it.

“Everyone busted out laughing,” she recalled.

Timmy was reported missing the night of May 25, 1991, at a carnival held at Kennedy Park in Sayreville. A massive search for him ensued after Lodzinski told authorities she had only turned her back on Timmy for a few minutes to get a soda at a concession stand when he disappeared.

Timmy’s skeletal remains were found in the creek off Olympic Drive in Raritan Center in Edison on April 23, 1992.

In the days and weeks after Timmy was reported missing, Lodzinski told law enforcement officials at least four different versions of what had happened at the carnival.

The state’s position has been Lodzinski attended the carnival herself that night, killed Timmy and dumped his body in the creek off Olympic Drive in Raritan Center where she previously worked four-tenths of a mile from because he became a burden, preventing her from keeping a steady job and relationship.

Krovatin representing Lodzinski has said his client loved Timmy and was a good mother to him.

He called the state’s case against his client circumstantial with no evidence.

Through testimony, law enforcement officials investigating the case in 1991 and 1992 have said Lodzinski was their primary suspect in his disappearance.

Lodzinski has never confessed or made any admissions to law enforcement.

No arrests were made at the time and the case became cold. An anonymous tip that came into the Crime Stoppers hotline in 2011 about the disappearance of Timmy prompted the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office to re-open the cold case in 2011.

Krovatin said after the sentencing hearing that he is going to appeal his client’s conviction and sentencing ruling. When asked how Lodzinski was when he spoke to her, Krovatin said Lodzinski is disappointed.

Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey commended the unceasingly vigilant efforts of numerous dedicated police officers who worked on the case over the years, and he thanked members of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office and other law enforcement agencies that were involved at various times, including the New Jersey State Police and the FBI.

Carey also said he was especially grateful to the Sayreville Police Department and the many officers who took part in the intensive investigation the department initiated at the moment the child first was reported missing.

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