New Jersey’s top court Tuesday tossed out the conviction of a mom in the 1991 death of her 5-year-old son — one of the state’s most infamous and previously longest-running cold cases.
Michelle Lodzinski had been sentenced in 2016 to 30 years in prison for killing her son, Timothy Wiltsey, who she claimed vanished from a local carnival.
But the state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that despite the jury’s verdict, prosecutors failed to present enough evidence during Lodzinski’s lengthy trial to show she purposely caused the boy’s death.
As a result of the ruling, which was handed down after multiple appeals, Lodzinski can’t be tried again in the case.
“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 wrote in its decision.
“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 majority said.
Lodzinski, a single mother at the time of Timothy’s disappearance, had told investigators in May 1991 that her child vanished while they were at a carnival in Sayreville.
But she was considered a prime suspect in the case from day one because she gave authorities several conflicting accounts of what had unfolded that night.
She first told investigators she briefly left her son alone to get a soda and that when she returned to where she last saw him, he was gone, NJ.com reported.
Then she said she left Timothy with a woman she bumped into at the carnival and only knew by her first name through Lodzinksi’s work at a bank — then went and got a soda, and by the time she returned, the pair had vanished.
A third version involved the woman and two men, one of whom took Timothy at knifepoint from her.
Timothy’s body was discovered about a year later in a marshy area close to an office building where Lodzinski once worked.
His cause of death was never determined because his body had decomposed by the time he was found.
Lodzinski wasn’t charged in her son’s death until August 2014 — on what would have been his 29th birthday, the outlet said. By that time, Lodzinski was living in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and had two other children.
Investigators brought the charges against her after revealing the boy’s former baby-sitters identified a blue blanket found with his body as having come from the mom and child’s home.
Prosecutors called the blanket “the smoking gun” in the case against Lodzinski at her 2016 trial.
“She dumped his body in a creek like a piece of trash, but she left behind a telling clue, this blanket,” Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor Christie Bevacqua told jurors, according to NJ.com.
“No other killer could get this.”
But Lodzinski’s lawyers argued that no forensic evidence ever tied her to the blanket. They also said prosecutors had failed to offer up evidence that showed Lodzinski purposely caused Timothy’s death.
The prosecution came back with the assertion that Lodzinski was a struggling young mother who felt burdened by the boy.
They argued that the totality of the evidence, including her conflicting answers during initial questioning, was enough to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Lodzinski’s conviction was upheld by an appeals court in 2019 — and then again by a deeply split state Supreme Court in May this year.
The state’s highest court agreed to rehear the case in October after conceding it had made a procedural mistake by ruling on an appellate court decision that had applied an incorrect legal standard.
An appellate judge was added to the rehearing to serve as the tie-breaking vote.
“This is a great day for the rule of law and for the proposition that convictions have to be based on evidence, not on speculation or emotion,” Lodzinski’s lawyer, Gerald Krovatin, said Tuesday.
“Michelle is enormously grateful to everyone who has stood by her throughout this long ordeal.”
He added to NJ.com that Lodzinski “started to cry” when given the news.
But the mom’s brother, Michael Lodzinski, told the outlet, “We all know the jury got it right.
“What happened today was just a result of some legal maneuvers and employment of a rarely used rule to insure a certain outcome, it is by no means a declaration of her innocence.”
The judges in the majority “believe they have righted some great wrong today but all they did was rob justice from a little boy.”
With Post wires