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NJ Mom’s Notorious Murder Conviction For 5-Year-Old Son’s 1991 Death Thrown Out

In 1992, 11 bones belonging to 5-year-old Timothy Wiltsey were found in a shallow creek bed near an Edison, New Jersey business park. His mother Michelle Lodzinski was convicted in the case in 2016.

By Dorian Geiger
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A New Jersey mother who was found guilty in the mysterious death of her son, who vanished more than 30 years ago, has had her murder conviction vacated by the state’s Supreme Court.

Michelle Lodzsinki, 54, was convicted in 2016 in the notorious cold case murder of her son, Timothy Wiltsey, who she said vanished from a carnival in May 1991. The child’s partial skeleton was found in a shallow creek bed almost a year later, near an Edison, New Jersey business park where the single mother previously worked.

On Tuesday, New Jersey’s state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that prosecutors had failed to offer sufficient evidence during Lodzinski’s trial. She was subsequently freed from Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Clinton, state correctional records show.

“After reviewing the entirety of the evidence and after giving the State the benefit of all its favorable testimony and all the favorable inferences drawn from that testimony, no reasonable jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Lodzinski purposefully or knowingly caused Timothy’s death,” the court stated in its opinion.

The ruling, which effectively ends decades of legal drama surrounding the case, means prosecutors can no longer retry Lodzinski in the case.

“It was, is, a great day for the rule of law and the court couldn’t have been clearer that convictions have to be based on facts and evidence and not on speculation and emotion,” Gerald Krovatin, Lodzinksi’s defense attorney, told Oxygen.com on Wednesday morning. 

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On May 25, 1991, Timothy Lodzninski vanished from a carnival in Sayreville, New Jersey. 

At the time, Lodzinski told an auxiliary police officer “she went to get her soda, she turned her back and her son was missing,” court documents stated. 

Prior to Timothy’s disappearance, Lodzinski told authorities she and her son had visited a park, walked around a lake, went to a petting zoo, and played kickball. As the investigation proceeded, she allegedly gave conflicting statements to law enforcement regarding her son’s disappearance.

Five months later, a wildlife enthusiast spotted a child’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles left sneaker near the Raritan Center in Edison, which authorities suspected belonged to Timothy. 

In April 1992, Timothy’s right sneaker was found roughly 30 yards away, along with his skull, leg, hip, and foot bones, which were collected from a nearby creek bed. A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles balloon, a blue blanket, and a pillowcase were also found in the vicinity of the child’s skeletal remains. A total of 11 bones, which belonged to Timothy, were also recovered from the scene.

The child’s severely decomposed remains and nearby items yielded little forensic evidence. No blood, bodily fluids, fingerprints, or hair were present on the pillowcase and blanket discovered by federal agents. Lodzinski, along with family members, told law enforcement they didn’t recognize the blanket.

Autopsy results also proved inconclusive. Dr. Marvin Shuster, the chief medical examiner for Middlesex County, was ultimately unable to determine a cause of death. Examination of the child’s bones, as well as his skull showed no signs of evident trauma.

In the months that followed, no arrests were made in the case. In 1992, prosecutors declined to bring any charges against Lodzinski, who later moved to Florida in pursuit of paralegal work. 

In a bizarre turn of events, Lodzinski was accused of staging her own abduction in 1994, falsely claiming two men identifying themselves as FBI agents kidnapped her, and took her to Detroit, separate court documents show. She later admitted the kidnapping plot was a hoax. Lodzinski ultimately pleaded guilty to providing false information to FBI agents and the illegal use of an FBI seal. She was sentenced to probation.

In 2011, however, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office reopened the investigation into Lodzinski’s possible involvement in her son’s death. Investigators’ renewed efforts largely focused on witness testimony linking the blanket found near Timothy’s remains to Lodzinski.  A grand jury charged her with Timothy’s murder in 2014. 

Jennifer Blair-Dilcher, Lodzinski’s estranged niece, as well as two other babysitters, told detectives they’d previously seen the dirty blanket found near Timothy’s remains in the New Jersey mother’s apartment, discrediting Lodzinkski’s own account of her son’s disappearance.

"I used that blanket when I snuggled up with Timothy," Dilcher testified in court, NJ.com reported. "When I saw the blanket, I started shaking and crying. I recognized the blanket from [Lodzinski's] apartment. It was with his remains.”

A retired county medical examiner, retained by the state, also ruled out suicide, natural or accidental death in Timothy’s demise during trial. The medical examiner didn’t state whether Timothy was a victim of a negligent, reckless, or intentional homicide.

In 2016, Lodzinksi was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. 

Following Lodzinski’s conviction, a trial court denied her motion for a judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict. An appellate court later affirmed the decision in 2019. Then, in May, the state’s Supreme Court, upheld the appellate court’s decision following an unexpected 3-3 split, after Chief Justice Stuart Rabner recused himself from the case.

The latest ruling by the state’s top court, however, concluded that the appellate panel erred by not assessing the entirety of the evidence — and only considering the state’s evidence, and not the defense’s. 

“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,” the court also stated. “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.”

Lodzinski, meanwhile, was deeply overcome with emotion after learning of the Supreme Court’s ruling, her lawyer said. 

“She was elated, very happy,” Krovatin added. “She’s sitting down the hallway right now in my office, and we’re trying to get her on a flight home.” 

Lodzinski will be staying with family in Florida for the foreseeable future, according to her attorney. Her father, sister, and other relatives reside in the state. Lodzinski also has two other sons.

“I think she’s still sorting that all out,” Krovatin added. “She’s got a lot of family in Florida. She hasn’t seen them, really, for seven years, so she’s very much looking forward to that.” 

A spokesperson for the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the Supreme Court’s ruling on Wednesday.