A judge has ruled that an imprisoned child molester is responsible for the disappearance and presumed death of Etan Patz, the 6-year-old boy whose parents’ desperate search pushed the issue of child disappearances to the forefront of national consciousness more than two decades ago.
The judge said she declared Jose R. Ramos responsible for the boy’s death because he disobeyed her orders to answer deposition questions under oath for a lawyer representing Etan’s parents.
Ramos, a former mental patient serving a 20-year sentence in Pennsylvania for the sex abuse of an 8-year-old boy, was interviewed in April 2003 by Brian O’Dwyer, lawyer for Stanley and Julia Patz, Etan’s parents. O’Dwyer said Ramos refused to answer many of his questions.
Etan was the subject of one of the most extensive missing-child searches ever after he vanished in lower Manhattan on May 25, 1979, while walking alone for the first time to his school bus. His face was among the first of a missing child to be put on the side of a milk carton, and the date of his disappearance became National Missing Children’s Day.
Statement to a cellmate
In a court hearing in 2002 in which Etan was officially declared dead, the missing child’s court-appointed guardian said Ramos once confided to a cellmate, “Etan is dead. There is no body, and there will never be a body.”
The Patzes filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in 2001 against Ramos, who was always the chief suspect in Etan’s disappearance. State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Kapnick ordered him to answer O’Dwyer’s deposition questions or risk being declared responsible for the boy’s death. Ramos, who will serve out his sentence in Pennsylvania in 2012, has never been charged in the Patz case.
Ramos, a friend of Etan’s baby sitter, argued unsuccessfully after the deposition that the lawsuit should be dismissed. Kapnick ruled against him last week.
O’Dwyer said Tuesday that his clients will ask Kapnick “to issue an injunction that will prevent Ramos from ever being in a room again with a young person.”