NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- An Arizona man told a judge Friday that a former cellmate confessed strangling a boy in New Jersey in 1991, a revelation that could shake up the upcoming murder trial of the boy's mother if jurors are allowed to hear the testimony.
Damien Dowdle testified at an evidence hearing in the case of Michelle Lodzinski that a man who took him in as a teenager and sexually molested him in the early 1990s made the confession to him when both were cellmates in Arizona on robbery charges.
Dowdle, a 42-year-old Tucson resident, said in court that the man told him he had strangled a boy in a park "near a big event" after the boy began to cry out as the man tried to molest him in a wooded area.
Lodzinski has said 5-year-old Timothy Wiltsey was kidnapped from a carnival in Sayreville in May 1991, though she offered conflicting versions to authorities. She was arrested in 2014 in Florida, where she had been working as a paralegal, and is being held in New Jersey on $2 million bail. She appeared at Friday's hearing dressed in a dark business suit.
Under direct questioning by Gerald Krovatin, Lodzinski's lawyer, Dowdle said he told authorities in Arizona about the man's comments in 1991 but never found out if they had acted on his tip. He said when he was released from prison last March, he did an online search to satisfy his nagging curiosity.
"I was floored," Dowdle said. "I always thought that he did something, but why didn't the detective find something? How many 5-year-old boys killed in a park are there on the East Coast? You would have thought he would have figured it out."
Dowdle said he lived with the man for about 18 months in 1989 and 1990 after moving out of his mother's house. He said the man confided to him that he had a sexual attraction to young children but sought out teenagers because they were easier to get access to.
Dowdle said he couldn't specifically recall if the man had mentioned hiding the boy's body. That could be a key point, as Timothy's remains were found the following year several miles away in a marshy area of Edison.
On cross-examination, Deputy First Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Christie Bevacqua brought up that investigators thought the man had been in Georgia during the time in question. That could be another important point, as Dowdle said he originally thought the man had said he was near "Atlanta City" but later came to understand he meant Atlantic City.
Jury selection in Lodzinski's trial is scheduled to begin in mid-February. Before then, state Superior Court Judge Dennis Nieves must decide whether to allow Dowdle's testimony.