NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey --A judge on Tuesday removed the jury foreman in the murder trial of a Florida woman charged with killing her 5-year-old son in New Jersey in 1991.
The move came before the jury resumed deliberating for a fourth day in the trial of Michelle Lodzinski.
The judge did not disclose specific details on why the foreman was dismissed and replaced by an alternate juror, but it means deliberations started over, with jurors told to disregard whatever the foreman had said during the earlier discussions.
Lodzinski was charged with murder in 2014 after investigators reopened the case. The Port St. Lucie resident first told authorities that Timothy Wiltsey disappeared while they were at the Sayreville carnival, then said he had been kidnapped from there.
Prosecutors say the boy was never at the carnival and Lodzinski killed him elsewhere.
A New Jersey prosecutor painted a damning portrait of Lodzinksi last Wednesday, telling jurors in closing arguments that the young mother killed the boy and dumped his body in a ditch because he had become a burden to her.
The image contrasted sharply with the one offered to jurors by Lodzinski's defense attorney in his summation, in which he cast her as a loving parent who worked two jobs to send the boy to a private school and had made plans to travel with him to Florida that summer.
"She was a young, struggling mother, struggling to survive and take care of her child," Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Christie Bevacqua told the jury. "Timothy was a burden on her. He was just no longer wanted, and her solution was a life without Timothy."
After weeks of searching in the Sayreville area turned up nothing, Wiltsey's remains were found 11 months later, several miles away in a marshy area near a building where Lodzinski once worked, prosecutors said. Near the body were a blanket, a sneaker and a balloon both sporting logos of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Timothy's favorite cartoon characters.
Despite suspicions about her changing stories, Lodzinski wasn't charged until 2014, a few years after prosecutors reopened the case after finding three of Timothy's former baby sitters who identified the blanket as coming from Lodzinski's apartment.
People who knew Timothy and were at the carnival didn't see him there on the night in question although they saw Lodzinski, Bevacqua said. Leaving the blanket by the body was something "only a mother would do," she told jurors.
"The carnival was a cover-up," she said. "It was a way the defendant sought to escape detection. Timothy was in the ditch around the corner from where she worked, with his blanket and a balloon."
Gerald Krovatin, Lodzinski's attorney, focused on the lack of any hair or fiber evidence on the blanket that could connect it to Lodzinski or Wiltsey. He noted that one of the baby sitters had expressed anger at Lodzinski in the past over a custody issue, and said the recollections of the other two were suspect.
Meanwhile, he said, three carnival workers told authorities at the time that they saw a boy who looked like Wiltsey, including one who said she saw a woman calling the boy "Timmy" or "Jimmy" and, later, saw her on her own and looking for him.
"There is enough reasonable doubt in this case to drive a truck through," Krovatin told the jury.
Krovatin disputed prosecutors' characterization of Lodzinski and said she was a loving, devoted mother to her little boy.
"She didn't wake up one day and out of the clear blue sky say, 'I'm going to murder my son,'" he said.
Lodzinski's trial began in mid-March. She has been held on $2 million bail in New Jersey since her arrest in the summer of 2014.