The deaths of a prominent New Jersey hospital CEO and his wife, who were found in a burning bedroom of their Montgomery home in 2014, remains an official mystery after the State Medical Examiner’s Office on Friday changed John Sheridan’s manner of death from “suicide” to “undetermined.”

The change is a victory for the couple’s sons, who have steadfastly disputed the findings by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office that Sheridan killed his wife and then took his own.

The change was made in response to an administrative appeal filed by the family. Under court order, State Medical Examiner Andrew L. Falzon reviewed the controversial case, resulting in the amendment of the death certificate.

In a written opinion Friday, Falzon said that Sheridan’s cause of death — “sharp force injuries and smoke inhalation” — remains unchanged.

But while Falzon allows that the wounds appeared self-inflicted, “no weapon was recovered from the scene that could be conclusively associated with the wounds sustained by Mr. Sheridan.”

“All this is unfortunately compounded by the extensive destruction of the scene by the fire. It is therefore my opinion that the manner of death is best classified as ‘Undetermined.’

The home of John and Joyce Sheridan in Montgomery
The home of John and Joyce Sheridan in Montgomery (Brian McCarthy, OnScene News)

“Should additional information regarding the case become available in the future, the case will be re-evaluated and amended if necessary.”

Somerset investigators concluded in 2015 that 72-year-old John Sheridan, the CEO of Cooper Health System, murdered his wife, Joyce, 69, by stabbing her. He then set the room on fire and committed suicide by stabbing himself five times in his neck and chest, they said.

We feel a huge wrong has been made right, at least in part.

The findings were immediately disputed by the couple’s sons, who believe it is possible their parents may have been killed by someone else. The sons were supported in their effort to reopen the case by former governors and other prominent officials.

Mark Sheridan, a son who speaks for the family, said Friday that the criminal investigation should be reopened.

"It’s been a long two plus years to get to this point," Sheridan said. "We feel a huge wrong has been made right, at least in part. Unfortunately, we still don’t know who killed our parents and so while we accept today’s decision as a vindication of what we’ve said all along; we have a long way yet to go.

"On behalf of the Sheridan family, I want to thank the State Medical Examiner for doing the right thing and exercising the courage to admit that a mistake was made."

Somerset County Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson declined to comment on the decision Friday, but issued a statement "to assure the public and the residents of Somerset County that we have no reason to believe that they should be fearful of their safety.”

Among the problems the Sheridan family had with the investigation:

  • The age on the autopsy report was off by a year, and the height and weight were far off.
  • Joyce Sheridan had blood on her hands, but no scratch marks were found on her husband.
  • Prosecutors said a melted piece of metal that was found near his body could have been a weapon John Sheridan used on himself, but that could not be verified.
  • There was no explanation for why Joyce Sheridan's jewelry was found in a bag in the closet.
  • There was no explanation for why a fire poker was found in the bedroom.
  • DNA evidence found on the knife used to kill Joyce Sheridan could not rule out other men.

A whistleblower lawsuit last year by a detective in the prosecutor’s office made the explosive claim that investigators mishandled and destroyed evidence in the case. The lawsuit, however, was dismissed earlier this month.

Gov. Chris Christie declined to reappoint Geoffrey Soriano as county prosecutor saying that he had “lost confidence” in him.

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