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Prosecutors Open New Inquiry Into Mysterious Deaths of Prominent Couple

The New Jersey attorney general’s office has opened an investigation into the unsolved deaths of a prominent political couple whose bodies were found in their home near Princeton, N.J., nearly eight years ago.

The couple, John and Joyce Sheridan, had been stabbed, and a gasoline-fueled fire was set in their bedroom near their bodies. The case shook New Jersey political circles and has confounded friends and relatives in the years since.

The new investigation was first reported on Tuesday by WNYC, which has aired a podcast focused on the Sheridans’ deaths in September 2014 and damning gaps in the initial inquiry.

The Somerset County prosecutor’s office initially concluded that Mr. Sheridan, 72, had killed himself and his wife of 47 years. But three years later, a New Jersey medical examiner — under pressure from the couple’s four sons and three former governors, all of whom had called for a more thorough investigation — reversed that decision and said the cause of their deaths was unclear.

Mr. Sheridan had been a confidant to several governors and served as the state’s transportation commissioner under former Gov. Thomas H. Kean, a Republican. At the time of his death, he was the president and chief executive of Cooper Health System, which operates a major medical center in Camden, N.J.

The state attorney general’s office, which has been led by Matthew J. Platkin, a Democrat, since February, offered no additional details about the investigation.

“We will follow the evidence wherever it leads,” Steven Barnes, a spokesman for the office, said Tuesday in an email.

Theories about the cold case resurfaced in January, when one of the couple’s sons, Mark Sheridan, pointed out that the circumstances surrounding his parents’ deaths were “eerily similar” to those of a separate federal investigation into the murder of a Jersey City political operative.

Matthew J. Platkin was appointed acting attorney general of New Jersey in February. The Legislature has not yet confirmed Mr. Platkin, who served as Gov. Philip D. Murphy’s chief counsel.Credit…Michelle Gustafson for The New York Times

The operative, Michael Galdieri, was stabbed and his second-floor apartment was set on fire four months before the Sheridans’ deaths. Sean Caddle, a well-connected political consultant, has confessed to hiring two men, George Bratsenis and Bomani Africa, to kill Mr. Galdieri, a onetime friend and colleague. Prosecutors have not disclosed a motive, but all three have pleaded guilty in federal court and await sentencing.

A knife similar to one Mr. Sheridan described as being missing from his parents’ house was later discovered in a truck driven by Mr. Bratsenis, according to court documents.

In a January letter to state and county prosecutors, Mr. Sheridan asked that the knife be examined for DNA evidence to determine if there was any connection between the murder-for-hire plot and his parents’ deaths.

Mr. Bratsenis’s lawyer, Charles L. Kurmay, declined on Tuesday to comment about whether his client had been questioned about the Sheridans’ deaths, as did a lawyer for Mr. Caddle.

Prosecutors have not suggested, in legal documents or in court appearances, that any link exists between the Sheridans’ deaths and the murder of Mr. Galdieri.

Mr. Sheridan said that he had not been contacted by investigators.

His parents’ house in Skillman, N.J., has since been sold, and he fears whatever evidence that may have once existed could be compromised. Still, he said he was grateful that the attorney general’s office had decided to look further into the case.

“I worry that eight years have passed and it’s going to be very hard from memories and physical evidence to get to anything,” Mr. Sheridan said. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t want them to try.”

The simultaneous loss of both parents, coupled with the persistent mystery about the circumstances that led to their deaths, had been “brutal,” he said.

“You never get very far away from it,” he added. “It’s always in front of you.”

One of the main proponents for the new investigation has been Ed Stier, a former state and federal prosecutor who specialized in public corruption cases and knew John Sheridan.

Mr. Stier said on Tuesday that the initial Somerset County investigation had been conducted with “gross ineptitude.”

“The county prosecutor’s office began the investigation with an assumption about what had caused their deaths, and their crime scene inevitably was shaped by the mistaken belief that it was a murder-suicide,” he said.

Mr. Stier also said Mr. Galdieri’s murder showed that hired killers sometimes do use both knives and fire as weapons, despite what investigators had thought.

“It demonstrates that the assumptions that people — even some people who should know better — make about professional hit men can be wrong,” Mr. Stier said. “Somebody can be murdered precisely the way the Sheridans were, by hired killers.”

The Somerset County prosecutor’s office did not respond to an email or call seeking comment.

Ed Shanahan contributed reporting, and Kirsten Noyes contributed research.

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