In the absence of official information to the contrary - or, really, of any official information at all - one might have hoped that those investigating the violent death of a New Jersey political insider had a compelling reason for their communications stance, which has been more reminiscent of an international espionage ring than a suburban prosecutor's office.
Perhaps officials disclosed so little about the deaths of former cabinet official John Sheridan and his wife because their investigative strategy required absolute obscurity about even the most basic facts. Perhaps Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano would soon emerge from hiding, apologize for keeping the public in the dark, explain his reasons for doing so, and tell us what happened.
Three months after the Sheridans' deaths, however, Soriano's office has maintained and even intensified its siege. The prosecutor has yet to speak publicly about the case, preferring terse statements that illuminate less than they obfuscate. His reticence, defended as somehow necessary, has produced no progress or breakthroughs - only speculation and suspicion.
In the 91 days since the Sheridans were discovered unresponsive amid flames in their Skillman home, officials have said only that the fire was set deliberately, that none of the Sheridans' sons is suspected, and that the community is not in danger - an assurance we are apparently expected to take on faith.
This falls far short of a minimally candid account of the facts. Based on records and sources - and despite official stonewalling - The Inquirer's Barbara Boyer, Melanie Burney, and Angelo Fichera have reported that both of the Sheridans were stabbed, that three weapons were used, that one of the Sheridans' sons was arrested for drug possession the day the couple died, and that Joyce Sheridan's death has been ruled a homicide.
New Jersey law requires certain basic information about crimes to be made "available to the public within 24 hours or as soon as practicable," including the type of offense, weapons used, and arrests. The Inquirer's reporting shows that the Prosecutor's Office has repeatedly and flagrantly broken that law. Most egregiously, the office hasn't even disclosed that Joyce Sheridan was murdered.
The paper's reporting also raises fundamental questions: Was John Sheridan murdered? What caused his and his wife's deaths? Are any of the weapons used missing? Did the fire or something else destroy important evidence? Could any of the tests officials claimed to be awaiting possibly be incomplete at this late date?
These are the kinds of questions countless prosecutors have answered - or at least had the sense of duty and courage to face. Instead, this prosecutor has given us a whole season of silence to no identifiable end.