A finding by a renowned forensic pathologist that Cooper Health System CEO John P. Sheridan Jr. and his wife were likely killed by an intruder raises the question: What could be next for investigators?
Acting Somerset County (N.J.) Prosecutor Michael Robertson said he had reviewed the report by Michael Baden - which contradicts a March 2015 ruling by his predecessor - and would await a decision by the state medical examiner before deciding whether the case should be reopened.
"I'm just as anxious as anyone else to see the decision," Robertson said. Regardless of whether the manner of death remains suicide or is changed, "I want to see how they [the medical examiner] reached their decision," he said.
Robertson said that state authorities have advised him that a decision is expected soon, but that he does not know an exact date. The prosecutor said he would thoroughly review any report by the medical examiner.
The investigation into the Sept. 28, 2014, deaths took another twist this week when the Inquirer disclosed that Baden had reached a stunning conclusion in the high-profile investigation.
In a 15-page affidavit, Baden repudiated the murder-suicide finding by the Somerset County prosecutor and said the prominent couple more likely were slain in their home in Montgomery Township.
Based on the report submitted in December 2015, the Sheridans' four sons, who hired Baden, have asked the state medical examiner to overturn the suicide ruling. They have argued from the outset that their father was a doting husband and that they did not believe he would kill their mother, Joyce, a retired teacher.
Officials from the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office and the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, which oversees prosecutors and medical examiners, declined to comment on Baden's findings and what, if any, action would be taken.
"They just can't sit idly by," said Glenn Zeitz, a prominent South Jersey criminal defense lawyer who is not associated with the Sheridan case but hired Baden in several other cases. "They have to put the A team on this. They have to try to find justice for everybody."
Baden stopped short of recommending that John Sheridan's death be changed to a homicide. Instead, he suggested that the manner of death be changed to undetermined.
The forensic evidence was consistent with the possibility that an assailant entered the Sheridan home, killed the couple, and set a fire to destroy evidence, Baden found.
The assessment should send investigators in the case back to the drawing board, experts say. Baden, a former chief medical examiner in New York, has conducted more than 20,000 autopsies in a career spanning five decades.
"I would want my own independent pathologist to take a look at" the Baden report, said former Burlington County Prosecutor Stephen G. Raymond. "There are just too many things that Baden has raised that you cannot ignore."
Despite repeated requests for a status report from the medical examiner, Mark Sheridan, one of the couple's four sons, said his family has not heard much beyond perfunctory letters. Earlier this month, the family was advised that a decision was expected within weeks.
"I've grown tired of waiting for a response," Sheridan said.
Last week, the family filed a legal notice with New Jersey's court of appeals that it plans to move forward with a lawsuit to challenge the suicide ruling by the medical examiner. The family also wants to see a new criminal investigation conducted.
"We hope they find who killed our mother and our father," Sheridan said.
A spokesman for Gov. Christie did not respond to requests for comment. Earlier this year, Christie removed from office Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano, saying he had "lost confidence" in the prosecutor who reached the murder-suicide conclusion.
In a March 2015 report, Soriano concluded that John Sheridan stabbed his wife to death, stabbed himself five times, and set the master bedroom on fire.
Among his findings, Baden concluded that John Sheridan showed no signs of suicidal behavior before the deaths, that none of the knives recovered at the house caused Sheridan's deep, thin wounds, and that the blood on a knife found in the bedroom matches that of a male but not the genetic profile of Sheridan or his sons.
In 2000, Baden turned another high-profile New Jersey case topsy-turvy with a finding that contradicted a medical examiner's conclusion that a Cape May Court House woman died accidentally from injuries sustained in a SUV crash.
Baden's findings turned a product-liability case brought by the dead woman's husband against Ford Motor Co. into a murder investigation against the husband.
In that case, Baden found that the woman's injuries were consistent with "manual strangulation" because tiny hemorrhages found in her eyes and bruises on her neck could not have been caused by a faulty air bag. The husband alleged that the air bag caused her fatal injuries.
Attorneys for the husband challenged Baden's position. Because experts disagreed over how she died, prosecutors said at the time that they would not consider charges in the case.
The husband never was charged by police. He later dropped his lawsuit against Ford.
Many experts believe that the evidence in the Sheridan case has been so compromised that it could undermine a future criminal case. Baden said then that prosecutor Soriano and his investigators misinterpreted the evidence.
"Somebody should get back on this case and take a hard look at it and treat it like a cold case and start from scratch," Zeitz said.
Mark Sheridan said rarely a day passes when the family members do not talk about their parents. "It's impossible to escape from the situation on a daily basis," he said.
Robertson said he is aware of the emotional toll the situation has taken on the Sheridan family.
"I am sympathetic to their loss," Robertson said. "It's a tragic situation that occurred."