FREEHOLD, NJ - Michelle A. Heale, 44, of Toms River, was charged today with the murder of a 14-month old child, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced. Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Thomas F. Scully, P.J. Cr. set Heale's bail at $250,000 with no 10% option.

The charge against Heale stems from an incident that occurred on August 28. On that date, Heale was babysitting 14-month old Mason Hess at Heale's house in Toms River. Heale was a regular babysitter for the Hess family and had watched Mason a few times a week for several months predating the incident. At approximately 2:03 p.m., the Toms River Police Department responded to the Heale home after Heale reported that the child was having difficulty breathing. The Toms River Police Department and the Toms River Township EMS responded and found the child unconscious and not breathing. Mason was immediately transported to a local emergency room in Toms River.

Shortly after Mason's arrival, doctors determined that the child's health was rapidly deteriorating and he was immediately transported by helicopter to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia ("CHOP"). Subsequent examination by CHOP physicians revealed that Mason sustained physical abuse and that his condition was grave. On August 31, CHOP physicians concluded that Mason was the victim of violent shaking that caused severe brain, spine and retinal damage. Mason Hess succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead on September 1 at approximately 2:30 p.m. A subsequent autopsy performed by the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office rendered Mason's cause of death to be blunt cerebral trauma and the manner of death to be homicide.

An investigation into Mason's death was commenced by the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office on August 29. This Office is handling the case because both the father of the victim and the husband of the defendant are employed by the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.

As a result, the Ocean County Prosecutor referred the investigation to the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General in accordance with standard procedure. The Attorney General's Office assumed jurisdiction over the case and then assigned it to the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office for further investigation.

Murder is a crime of the first degree and carries a maximum sentence of lifetime in prison, and a minimum of 30 years in jail with a 30-year period of parole ineligibility . This charge is also subject to the "No Early Release Act" (N.E.R.A.), which means that, if convicted, Heale would not be paroled until she served 85% of the sentence imposed, if given more than the minimum 30-year sentence.

Despite this charge, every defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, following a trial in which the defendant has all of the trial rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and State law.

The case is being prosecuted by Director of Investigations Marc C. LeMieux. Heale is represented by Karl Mohel, Esq., of Toms River.