A hospital executive who spent decades as an important figure in New Jersey politics and policy killed his wife, set their house ablaze, then killed himself, a prosecutor ruled Friday, finally giving an explanation six months later of the mysterious deaths.
The four grown sons of John and Joyce Sheridan released a statement expressing doubt about the findings released by Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano. The sons, including Mark Sheridan, a prominent Republican election law lawyer, said they would be suing under a New Jersey statute that allows next of kin to challenge findings on death certificates.
“We will not allow our father to be convicted based on guesswork resulting from an inadequate and incomplete investigation simply because he is not here to defend himself,” they said in a statement.
Soriano’s office spent six months investigating the Sept. 28 deaths, which came the day after 72-year-old John Sheridan and his 69-year-old wife, Joyce, decorated their Skillman home for Halloween.
Authorities, responding to a fire reported at the home, found their bodies at around 6:15 a.m.
The cause of death of Joyce Sheridan, a retired high school teacher, was ruled a stab wound to the chest that punctured her aorta.
It took longer for Soriano’s office to make a determination on what killed John Sheridan, the CEO of Cooper University Health System who had previously been a lawyer for a firm and a government official.
His body was found under a heavy armoire. He had broken ribs believed to have been caused by the piece of furniture falling on him.
The investigation found he had five wounds to his torso and neck, all of them superficial, “consistent with self-infliction.” But one struck his jugular vein, which could have been fatal. The medical examiner found no defensive wounds.
The report also found he had carbon monoxide in his system from the fire authorities believe he set.
Soriano’s office said some of the 180 interviews done during the investigation revealed that John Sheridan had been withdrawn in the days leading up to the couple’s deaths. He was concerned with work, the report found, and was due to meet with colleagues later that day.
John Sheridan served as state transportation commissioner, a lawyer for Gov. William Cahill and the Republicans in the state Senate. He was the creator of New Jersey’s transportation trust fund, an idea that was novel at the time but has been replicated across the country since the 1980s. For nearly a decade at the end of his life, he held top positions at Cooper Health System and became a player not only in the hospital’s expansion but also in efforts to revitalize Camden. Three governors mourned him and his wife at a memorial service last year.
The investigation also found no signs of a break-in at the home.
The sons seized on one detail from the investigative report: Two kitchen knives were found in the bedroom, including one that authorities said was used to kill Joyce Sheridan. But the weapon used on John Sheridan was not recovered.
“If this is a murder-suicide; where is that knife and why was it not recovered at the scene after multiple searches?” the sons asked in their statement.
But the report said that a re-solidified metal object was found burned in the fire near where John Sheridan’s body was found.
Follow Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill