crimesider

Sons challenge murder-suicide ruling in deaths of prominent N.J. parents

John and Joyce Sheridan

Courier-Post via CBS Philly

SOMERVILLE, N.J. - The sons of a prominent New Jersey couple, including a health care executive, say a prosecutor botched the investigation of their parents' deaths by trying to make the evidence justify his theory that their father killed their mother, then himself.

Mark Sheridan sent an open letter Monday to the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office laying out why he and his three brothers fault its finding on the deaths of John and Joyce Sheridan. He expanded on it in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

"They walked into this house. They decided what this was," Mark Sheridan said of the investigation, which launched in September when his parents' bodies were found after a fire in their house in Skillman. "When they realized they had screwed up, it was too late to backtrack."

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A Montgomery Township, N.J., police officer in front of the partially burned home of John and Joyce Sheridan early Monday, Sept. 29, 2014.

AP Photo/Mel Evans

Sheridan, a prominent election lawyer, now considers seeking the truth about his parents' deaths a second full-time job.

He said his family plans to announce details soon of a $250,000 reward for information that leads to the conviction of a person who killed his parents. He and his brothers had previously announced plans to sue to have his father's death certificate changed so it will not say he killed himself.

Sheridan also said he would campaign against the reappointment of the Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano, who oversaw the investigation. His term is up at the end of September.

Jack Bennett, a spokesman for Soriano, said Tuesday that he would not comment on the letter.

John and Joyce Sheridan were found dead in their home after a fire Sept. 28.

He was a 72-year-old former state transportation commissioner and a lawyer who was working as the CEO of Camden-based Cooper Health System. She was a 69-year-old retired high school teacher.

It took six months before Soriano's office announced in March its conclusion that John Sheridan had killed his wife, then himself.

In the letter, Mark Sheridan asserts that prosecutors set out to prove that from the start and stuck to it, even as the evidence failed to line up.

Sheridan says the autopsy on his father was rife with errors: The age was off by a year, and the height and weight were far off.

The letter raises the sons' other doubts. For instance, authorities said Joyce Sheridan had blood on her hands - evidence that she tried to fight off her attacker. Yet, Mark Sheridan says, no scratches were found on his father.

Mark Sheridan also focuses on the question of what weapon killed John Sheridan. Prosecutors said a melted piece of metal was found near his body. But Sheridan said it was not clear whether that was the instrument used to kill his father.

Sheridan also said investigators didn't explore other issues: Why his mother's jewelry was found in a bag in a closet and what a fire poker was doing in the couple's bedroom, which did not have a fireplace.

He also said prosecutors misrepresented DNA evidence found on the knife used to kill Joyce Sheridan. It did match his father, but also about half of all the men in the world, Mark Sheridan said.

Mark Sheridan said the investigation has shaken his faith in the legal system. "If you're not a family with resources and education and the wherewithal to fight," he said, "I don't know how you can get a fair shake."