Woman's Conviction For '91 Killing Of Son Gets Rehearing

Attorneys argued again in court Monday over whether a Florida woman's 2016 conviction for killing her 5-year-old son 25 years earlier was flawed because prosecutors didn’t present enough evidence to prove the case.

Michelle Lodzinski was the central figure in one of New Jersey's most enduring cold cases for years after the disappearance of Timothy Wiltsey in the spring of 1991.

Her shifting accounts of what happened on the last day the boy was seen made her a prime suspect, but she wasn't arrested and charged until 2014, when she was living in the Port St. Lucie, Florida area with two sons born in the years after Wiltsey's disappearance.

The key evidence was witness testimony linking a blanket found months later near Wiltsey's body to Lodzinski. Her attorneys argued no forensic evidence tied Lodzinski to the blanket. A cause of death couldn’t be determined because Wiltsey’s body had deteriorated.

An appeals court in 2019 rejected Lodzinski's attorneys' contention that the evidence didn't support her conviction, and the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld that ruling last year in a deeply divided 3-3 opinion in which Chief Justice Stuart Rabner didn't participate.

In a surprising ruling this month — again with three justices dissenting — the state's Supreme Court took the rare step of ordering a rehearing, conceding it had made a procedural mistake by ruling on an appellate court decision that had applied an incorrect legal standard by only considering evidence offered by prosecutors and not by Lodzinski.

Arguing on behalf of Lodzinski, who is serving a 30-year prison term, attorney Gerald Krovatin said Monday that trial testimony by medical experts, who said Wiltsey's death couldn't have been accidental, should not be considered proof of his client's guilt.

“The absence of evidence that it was an accident is not evidence of a purposeful, knowing or reckless death — that is, a homicide,” Krovatin said.

Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Joie Piderit denied Krovatin's claim that prosecutors unfairly characterized Lodzinski as a struggling single mother in an attempt to imply guilt, telling the justices the characterizations were based on facts and that, taken together with other circumstantial evidence, they amounted to sufficient evidence to convict.

“The defendant's actions were not accidental, they were knowing and purposeful,” Piderit said.