In 2016, when a jury convicted Michelle Lodzinski of murdering her 5-year-old son in 1991, her Defense Attorney Gerald Krovatin said he and Lodzinski would “explore all alternatives available to her.”
Explore they did with appeals.
In a surprising turn of events, the New Jersey Supreme Court used a power “rarely invoked” and overturned Lodzinski’s conviction 4-3 on Dec. 28.
Hours after the decision, Lodzinski became a free woman after a Middlesex County Superior Court judge ordered her to be released from jail.
Krovatin, of Krovatin Nau LLC, Newark, picked up Lodzinski, now 54, from prison where she had been serving her 30-year sentence. She told reporters she is “just grateful for all the people who stood by my side to get me home to my family and friends. I want to just go home and see my kids.”
Lodzinski had two more sons after her first son, Timothy “Timmy” Wiltsey, died. The two boys – ages 18 and 14 at the time – lived with their mother in Port St. Lucie, Florida, before her conviction.
Just seven months ago, the Supreme Court had affirmed Lodzinski’s conviction in a split 3-3 vote. In October, the court granted Lodzinski’s motion to reconsider the affirmation, which found “a panel of the Appellate Division erred by not assessing the entirety of the evidence.”
Justice Barry T. Albin delivered the 89-page opinion of the court. The six members on the court were joined by the most senior in service of the Appellate Division, Judge Jose L. Fuentes, for the decision.
“Undoubtedly, the decision to vacate a jury verdict is a difficult one,” Albin wrote. “That is true whether the trial receives little public attention or is intensely covered in the media … We do so today because our constitutional obligation demands no less.”
Justices Jaynee LaVecchia, Fabiana Pierre-Louis and Judge Fuentes joined Albin’s opinion to vacate Lodzinski’s conviction.
Justices Faustino J. Fernandez, Anne M. Patterson and Lee Solomon casted dissenting votes.
“The issue in this case is whether the evidence, when viewed in its entirety, supported the finding that Lodzinski purposely or knowingly caused her son’s death,” Albin wrote, adding after reviewing “the entirety of the evidence” … “no reasonable jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Lodzinski purposefully or knowingly caused Timothy’s death.”
“Even if the evidence suggested that Timothy did not die by accident, no testimony or evidence was offered to distinguish whether Timothy died by the negligent, reckless, or purposeful or knowing acts of a person, even if that person were Lodzinski,” he wrote. “No conviction can be founded on speculation or conjecture. We may never know the truth about what happened in this case. The only issue is whether the evidence – presented in the light most favorable to the prosecution – supports a finding beyond a reasonable doubt that Lodzinski purposely or knowingly caused the death of her son.”
Albin said the state’s retained medical examiner concluded that Timothy’s death was not accidental, but the result of a homicide. The medical examiner did not offer an opinion whether Timothy was the victim of a negligent, reckless, or purposeful or knowing homicide.
The three dissenting justices, in their opinion, stated they “consider the defendant’s acquittal to be unwarranted and unjust.”
“In our view, the majority usurps the exclusive province of the jury that heard the evidence at defendant’s trial,” the justices wrote. “We consider that decision to be a disservice to our jury system and a grave injustice to the victim, 5-year-old Timothy Wiltsey.”
Background of the case
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.
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.
Timmy’s skeletal remains were found in a creek off Olympic Drive in Raritan Center, Edison, on April 23, 1992.
Through testimony, law enforcement officials investigating the case in 1991 and 1992 had said Lodzinski was their primary suspect in Timmy’s disappearance. No criminal charges were filed against Lodzinski until the case was reopened in 2011.
An anonymous tip that came into the Crime Stoppers hotline in 2011 about Timmy’s disappearance prompted the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office to reopen the case in 2011.
During the re-investigation, Lodzinski’s estranged niece, Jennifer Blair-Dilcher, had identified a blue blanket found at the scene of where Timmy’s body was found as coming from Lodzinski’s apartment in South Amboy. Two former babysitters also identified the blanket.
In 2014, a Middlesex County grand jury charged Lodzinski with murder. The trial against Lodzinski began in March 2016 and lasted 28 days.
After five days of deliberations, the jury sitting in Middlesex County found Lodzinski guilty of first-degree murder. She was sentenced to 30 years in January 2017.
The state’s position had been that Lodzinski attended the carnival herself that night, killed Timmy, and dumped his body in the creek off Olympic Drive in Raritan Center, having previously worked four-tenths of a mile from that location, because her son became a burden, preventing her from keeping a steady job and a relationship.
Krovatin, who represented Lodzinski during the trial and on appeals, had said his client loved Timmy and was a good mother to him. He called the state’s case against her circumstantial with no evidence.
During the reconsideration hearing before the Supreme Court, Joie D. Piderit, acting assistant prosecutor/special deputy attorney general, argued the cause for the state.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office “respectfully” declined to comment in light of the Supreme Court’s judgment and decision.
Contact Kathy Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org.