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NJ Mom Accused Of Killing Toddler Son Because He Was Getting In The Way Of Her Affair Found Guilty
Prosecutors said Heather Reynolds suffocated her 17-month-old son Axel with a cleaning wipe when she viewed him as an "obstacle" in her extramarital relationship with Jeffery Callahan.
A New Jersey woman has been found guilty of killing her toddler son and not guilty in a murder-for-hire plot to have a witness in the case killed.
Heather Reynolds, 44, was convicted by a Camden County jury on Thursday on charges related to the 2018 murder of her 17-month-old son, Axel, according to county prosecutors. The married woman was accused of using methamphetamines hours before suffocating the child with a cleaning wipe.
Prosecutors alleged she killed the toddler after becoming convinced he thwarted her relationship with her paramour, Jeffrey Callahan.
Following the nine-day trial, jurors took six hours to deliberate over two days before finding Reynolds guilty of murder, possession of methamphetamines, and endangering the welfare of a child, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“A lot of people worked very hard to get justice for this child,” said Peter Gallagher, chief of the homicide unit in the prosecutor's office. “I’m grateful for their efforts and appreciate the time and attention that the jury gave this case.”
Reynolds’ attorney, Richard Fuschino, said he plans to appeal.
“We respect very much the jury’s time, but we are devastated the jury did not find reasonable doubt,” he said, according to the Inquirer.
Reynolds was found not guilty on charges of conspiracy to commit murder and witness tampering after she and Callahan were charged in 2021 with trying to kill Reynolds’ ex-boyfriend, who lived in the home when Axel was murdered.
The investigation began on the morning of May 10, 2018, when officials with the Gloucester Police Department responded to Reynolds’ Sicklerville home, about 20 miles south of Philadelphia. According to a 2019 NJ.com article, Reynolds held her unresponsive son while screaming for help from her neighbors.
Paramedics and police found the mother and child on a front lawn, where the boy was pronounced dead a short time later.
Responders noted the boy sustained bruising around his mouth and nose and smelled what appeared to be rubbing alcohol, according to prosecutors. On the scene, Reynolds gave conflicting accounts of how her son died, including the timing when she allegedly found him unresponsive in his bed and claiming he mistakenly drank something lethal.
Gallagher said Reynolds tried to cover her tracks by washing Axel’s shirt and a towel before police arrived at her home, according to the Inquirer.
More than a year after Axel’s death, Dr. Gerald Feigin of the Gloucester-Camden-Salem Medical Examiner’s office ruled the boy’s death homicide by asphyxiation, according to NJ.com. Further toxicology reports showed traces of isopropyl alcohol in the victim’s bloodstream, an ingredient commonly used in rubbing alcohol.
Investigators stated Reynolds held a cleaning wipe containing isopropyl alcohol and cleaning detergent over the boy’s face.
“This was an absolutely brutal murder and a helpless victim,” Gallagher said at the time.
Witnesses told police Reynolds used meth the night before the murder and well into the early hours, according to NJ.com.
Prosecutors argued Reynolds’ relationship with Jeffrey Callahan motivated her to remove her son from the picture. At the time, Reynolds was married to a man whose work reportedly worked pulled him away from home often.
Callahan, of nearby Clayton, New Jersey, reportedly spent the night with Reynolds but left before Reynolds found her son, he told investigators.
“A review of the text messages between the defendant and her boyfriend from the previous night reveal that the defendant was becoming frustrated by the boyfriend’s apparent lack of interest,” said Gallagher. “And witnesses also told detectives that the defendant had expressed the sentiment that [Axel] was an obstacle to her relationship with her boyfriend.”
In a strange twist in the case, Reynolds was charged with first-degree conspiracy to commit murder while awaiting trial for her son’s murder in 2021, according to prosecutors. Callahan was also arrested on the same charge.
“During the investigation into Axel’s death, detectives uncovered evidence that Reynolds and Callahan were allegedly conspiring to have another individual killed,” prosecutors stated.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the victim was Domenic Caruso, an ex-boyfriend of Reynolds who lived in Reynolds’ basement at the time of Axel’s murder. Prosecutors said Callahan sent Caruso threatening texts after allegedly learning Caruso spoke to investigators about Axel’s death.
Callahan also allegedly approached a “third party,” offering up to $25,000 to have someone “kill” Caruso.
Reynolds was acquitted of those charges, however.
Callahan accepted a deal and pleaded guilty to lesser charges of tampering with evidence, according to the Inquirer. He has yet to be sentenced.
During Reynolds’ trial, defense attorney Richard Fuschino argued she was a loving mother and that Caruso - not Reynolds - could have killed the young child, according to the Inquirer.
“She did not commit this murder,” Fuschino said. “The reason that we have trials is for when arrests are made of the wrong person because that really does happen.”
Though Fuschino highlighted that Caruso was wish-washy about his movements on the night of the murder, prosecutor Gallagher noted to jurors that Caruso had no motive to kill the boy.
Caruso has not been charged in connection with Axel’s death.
Reynolds is scheduled for sentencing in October, according to Camden County prosecutors. She faces the rest of her life behind bars.