By Sue Eptsein and Mark Mueller
Ten votes guilty.
That was the split Tuesday evening in the Middlesex County Courthouse as Michelle Lodzinski waited to learn if she would be convicted of murder in the death of her 5-year-old son, Timothy Wiltsey, a quarter century ago, according to a juror who was present.
It was an “intense” but civil discussion, said the juror, who gave NJ Advance Media an inside look at deliberations on the condition that his name not be used. In the courtroom, the 45-year-old Old Bridge resident was juror number six.
They had weathered eight weeks of testimony from 68 witnesses. No physical evidence tied Lodzinski to her son’s killing. No one saw her commit the crime.
Yet for 10 of the people who held Lodzinski’s fate in their hands — who had the knowledge that she could be sent to prison for the rest of her life — circumstantial evidence presented by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office was deeply compelling, the juror said.
“You just knew,” he said.
It was, in part, the tattered, faded blanket, the juror said. It had been found near Timmy’s remains in a Raritan Center marsh in April 1992, nearly a year after the boy vanished. Three former babysitters testified they recognized the blanket as Timmy’s.
It was Lodzinski’s shifting stories as police investigated her son’s disappearance, ostensibly from a Sayreville carnival. The mother, who lived in South Amboy at the time, told investigators her son disappeared when she turned her back to buy food.
Then she told them he was abducted by a woman she knew, a former go-go dancer, who was in the company of a man with a knife. Then came another story: She saw him being abducted but was afraid to say anything lest he be harmed.
It was, finally, her demeanor during the long investigation: seemingly detached, unemotional, as if she wasn’t in mourning, the juror said.
“It wasn’t just one thing,” he said.
Taking those strands of evidence together, the juror said, he was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt Lodzinski killed her son.
Nine of his fellow jurors readily agreed, he said.
Two would have to be persuaded.
It had been a tense few days of deliberations for the jury, composed of seven men and five women.
The juror who spoke to NJ Advance Media was initially an alternate in the case, hearing testimony but not participating in deliberations.
That changed Tuesday afternoon, when the jury’s foreman was dismissed by Judge Dennis Nieves. The judge did not provide a full explanation for the dismissal, saying only, “It was personal and related only to him and has nothing to do with the other members of the jury.”
Jurors are sometimes dismissed for hardship issues or rules violations. It is not known if either applied to the foreman, identified only as “Mr. Woodcock.”
When juror number six replaced him in the deliberations later Tuesday, he said, he learned of the heated conversations that had taken place earlier. The other jurors, he said, told him the foreman had made clear he believed Lodzinski was innocent and that he was steadfast in his commitment to acquitting her.
Had the foreman remained on the panel, the juror said, he suspects it could have resulted in a hung jury and a mistrial.
Juror number six had a different opinion.
“I said a couple of things that made it known I was set on my decision, and I wasn’t changing my verdict,” he said.
As a new jury, the group deliberated less than four hours over two days before announcing it had reached a decision at 10:20 Wednesday morning.
Michael Lodzinski said the question of who killed Timmy Wiltsey, the 5-year-old reported missing from a carnival in N.J., has divided his family.
Juror number six said the two people who were against a guilty verdict argued there wasn’t sufficient evidence to show Lodzinski personally killed her son.
The others countered that under the judge’s jury instructions, the mother could be found guilty of murder even if she didn’t set out to kill him. If she injured him, for instance, and he later died of his injuries, Lodzinski could still be found guilty of murder, the juror said.
The two holdouts already believed Lodzinski knew what happened to Timmy and that she was lying about it, juror number six said.
By Wednesday morning, he said, they had fully come around to the majority position.
The vote was unanimous.
The juror said he and the others did, at times, grow emotional in their arguments. But he said it was always calm and professional.
He said he is at peace with the decision and that he knows it was the correct one.
Yet he’s not sure he would want to sit on a murder case again.
“It was very intense,” he said.