How An Ocean County Child’s Death Made International News

Christopher Gregor is led out of court after his conviction for child endangerment and aggravated manslaughter of his six-year-old son. (Photo courtesy Asbury Park Press – Press Pool Photo)

  BARNEGAT – An estimated 500 children die at the hands of their parents every year in the United States. The 2021 tragic death of Corey Micciolo, a first-grade student from Barnegat brought this statistic close to home. A jury convicted his father, 32-year-old Christopher Gregor, of child endangerment and aggravated manslaughter after a month-long trial.

  But why did this particular case capture international attention?

  One key factor was the involvement of Dr. Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist known for his work on the O.J. Simpson trial and the investigation into the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. His expert testimony for the defense added high-profile interest to the case.

  However, it was Corey’s mother, Breanna Micciolo, whose relentless pursuit of justice truly amplified the case’s visibility. Her emotional social media campaign for her son gained significant traction. This eventually led to the trial being broadcast by Court TV, a channel known for covering cases like those of the Menendez brothers and Casey Anthony. Other online channels also picked up the trial – further fueling the public’s fascination with Corey’s tragic story.

Supervising Assistant Prosecutor Christine Lento makes the case in court. (Photo courtesy Asbury Park Press – Press Pool Photo)

  Evidence In The Case

  Gregor invoked his right not to testify on his own behalf, which his defense attorney pointed out should not be viewed as an admission of his guilt. Corey’s father maintained his innocence from the start of the case and turned down a 30-year plea offer when he was first charged.

  Ocean County Supervising Assistant Prosecutor Christine Lento and Supervising Assistant Prosecutor Jamie Schron presented the case to the jury. The most alarming piece of evidence they offered prompted Gregor’s initial charges of child endangerment in July of 2021 for a March 20, 2021 incident infamously labeling the case as the treadmill abuse trial.

  In an interview after the trial, defense attorney Mario Gallucci spoke about the video.

  “You have that treadmill video which I said in my opening statement was horrible,” said Gallucci. “No child should be treated the way that child was treated on that video.”

  Corey died on April 2, 2021, and Gallucci said he still maintains the twelve days between the date of the video had nothing to do with the child’s death. None of the expert witnesses who testified at trial correlated the injuries Corey suffered from the treadmill incident to his death.

  Prior to the start of the trial, Gallucci attempted to have the endangerment charges separated from the murder charges. His co-counsel Andrea Ferrante argued before Superior Court Judge Guy P. Ryan that prior acts of abuse should be ruled as inadmissible as they were unduly prejudicial.

  Notably, Breanna has indicated she previously reported numerous incidences of abuse to New Jersey’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP). Her Justice for Corey Facebook page documented multiple photographs of bruises and a recording of Corey telling his mother his father was abusing him. Testimony about those claims was not allowed in court.

Corey’s mother Breanna Micciolo cries during the trial. (Photo courtesy Asbury Park Press – Press Pool Photo)

  Gallucci also attempted to have the case dismissed for insufficient evidence after its presentation to the jury. Ryan denied both motions. Defense counsel announced intentions to appeal the case immediately after the verdict.

  “Mr. Gregor is going to appeal several decisions in the case,” said Gallucci. “Right now, we are interviewing a few firms on some of the issues raised pre-trial and during the trial – most notably the decision denying severance.”

   “We sought pre-trial to split the case into two parts, with the first trial being the endangering and the treadmill video and the second the murder of which he was acquitted,” Gallucci continued. “However, the conviction on the aggravated manslaughter still would make that decision ripe for argument.”

  During closing arguments, Lento honed in on the treadmill video in sections. She pointed out that Gregor held up two fingers, which she submitted bore significant meaning. Breanna was two hours late in returning Corey and Lento suggested the child was being punished as a result. This allegation led to the inference that Corey was being punished for revealing what was being done to him – leading to further abuse on the date of his death.

  The jury asked for a replay of the treadmill video during their deliberations. They also requested a read back of the transcript from the forensic pathologist who provided expert testimony on behalf of the prosecution. Dr. Thomas A. Andrew provided a timeline and details of what he said were blunt force injuries that led to Corey’s death.

  Baden attributed the little boy’s passing to natural causes, specifically a fast-growing pneumonia and sepsis. Dr. Anat Feingold, a pediatric infectious disease specialist disputed Baden’s claim after reviewing medical records from both the day prior to Corey’s death and his final hospital visit when he was pronounced.

Christopher Gregor was found guilty of aggravated manslaughter. (Photo courtesy Asbury Park Press – Press Pool Photo)

  The Voice Of Corey Micciolo

  The Ocean County Prosecutor’s office took on the role of Corey Micciolo’s voice in court. Breanna readily admitted there were times that she was frustrated by how long it took justice to prevail. However, she also acknowledged her gratitude for the work that was done to bring the case to the verdict.

  In the three years since Corey died, a number of supporters have attended court hearings and held protests to bring attention to the case. Breanna’s mother, Rebecca and sister, Nicole have stood by her side as the two constants at every hearing.

  In a world where some families bond closely with the birth of a child, this was not the case with the Micciolos and the Gregors. Even after Corey’s death, the two families held separate memorial services.

  “They were never a couple,” shared Rebecca. “Breanna was just 16 and he was 21 when he got her pregnant. It was not consensual – and he knew the child was his before I told David Gregor.”

Defense attorneys Mario Gallucci and Andrea Ferrante after the verdict was delivered. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Rebecca said that when she first went to meet Christopher’s parents, she felt like she was being interviewed. She was puzzled when David asked if there had been any DCPP involvement while Corey was in their care. It seemed like an odd question to ask her.

  During the trial, Rebecca was sequestered as a potential witness. She sobbed audibly in court when the image of the treadmill video was displayed after she was finally permitted in the courtroom.

  “I feel like the defendant’s attorney put me and my whole family on trial,” Rebecca said. “We were the victims and he tried to make us out to be criminals.”

  During her testimony, Breanna admitted she began using methamphetamine to numb her feelings. She went through drug treatment and has been sober since February 2021. Defense counsel referred to a Facebook message where Breanna attempted to get a “bump” on the day of Corey’s death. She says she never got the drug and didn’t use it that day.

  Two days before Corey’s death, Breanna filed an application with the court to have her son removed from Gregor’s care. She submits DCPP already had the treadmill video in their possession and failed to produce it in court. A lawsuit has been filed against DCPP in civil court alleging a mishandling of the abuse done to Corey.

Breanna Micciolo (center) with her mother Rebecca and sister Nicole after the verdict. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Breanna was prepared to take a urine test to check for drugs if that court mandated one – but instead the judge ordered completion of a child abuse exam within seven days.

  Hours before Corey’s death, Breanna told his father of the appointment she scheduled with the child abuse expert. She’d spent the previous day meeting with the regular pediatrician – and then on to the hospital where Corey’s injuries were documented. They were to meet together that day at noon.

  Corey is no longer here to explain what happened after Breanna saw him alive for the last time on the morning of his death. However, Breanna believes Corey’s voice still needs to be heard – perhaps in the form of changing the system she says failed him. 

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Stephanie A. Faughnan is an award-winning journalist associated with Micromedia Publications/Jersey Shore Online and the director of Writefully Inspired. Recognized with two Excellence in Journalism awards by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists, Stephanie's passion lies in using the power of words to effect positive change. Her achievements include a first-place award in the Best News Series Print category for the impactful piece, "The Plight Of Residents Displaced By Government Land Purchase," and a second-place honor for the Best Arts and Entertainment Coverage category, specifically for "Albert Music Hall Delivers Exciting Line-Up For 25th Anniversary Show." Stephanie can be contacted by email at