Appeals court upholds mom’s conviction in son’s ’91 death
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A state appeals court on Wednesday declined to toss the conviction of a New Jersey woman convicted of killing her young son in 1991, ruling that prosecutors presented sufficient evidence to prove her guilt and the trial judge didn’t err by dismissing a juror during deliberations.
An attorney representing Michelle Lodzinski said Wednesday she was disappointed by the ruling and plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Lodzinski was convicted in 2016 of killing 5-year-old Timothy Wiltsey in New Jersey. She was a suspect early in the case due to her changing accounts of what happened on the day the boy disappeared, but wasn’t charged until 2014 after investigators developed new evidence.
She was arrested near Port St. Lucie, Florida, where she had been living.
Lodzinski told investigators that her son disappeared while they were at a carnival in Sayreville in May 1991, and she told varying accounts describing strangers who could have kidnapped him.
Wiltsey’s body was found 11 months later in a marshy area a few miles from the site of the carnival. The body’s decomposition made it impossible to determine a cause of death, but prosecutors presented an expert who said his death could be considered a homicide.
The case went cold for two decades, until investigators found three babysitters who identified a blue blanket found near the boy’s body as having come from Lodzinski’s home.
The blanket contained no trace evidence or DNA tying it to either Wiltsey or Lodzinski, and no other evidence presented by prosecutors tied her directly to his death, her attorney, Gerald Krovatin, argued. The circumstantial evidence didn’t prove that Lodzinski caused his death or did it knowingly, he said.
Prosecutors argued before the appeals court that the balance of the evidence pointed to only one conclusion, even though there was no smoking gun.
Although the appeals court wrote Wednesday that the arguments raised “a close question,” it concluded that the circumstantial evidence combined with Lodzinski’s behavior after the boy’s disappearance was enough to prove her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The other main point of contention concerned state Superior Court Judge Dennis Nieves’ dismissal of the jury foreman during deliberations, after it was revealed the juror had done internet research on FBI crime-scene guidelines and shared his findings with other jurors.
An alternate stepped in and the panel reached a guilty verdict several hours later.
The juror’s actions didn’t merit a dismissal, defense attorneys argued. But if they did, they contended, that meant the whole jury was tainted and Nieves should have declared a mistrial.
The appeals court disagreed, writing Wednesday that “the judge here found, and the record supports his conclusion, that the foreperson’s research produced no taint.”
In an email, Krovatin said Lodzinski’s conviction “was always about emotion, not evidence.”
“The State consistently failed to present any evidence that Michelle Lodzinski caused the tragic death of Timmy Wiltsey,” he added. “We respectfully disagree with the Court’s analysis of the sufficiency of the evidence and the prejudicial handling of jury deliberations.”