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Dec 19, 7:49 PM EST

Lawyer: Child molester won't testify in 1979 case


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NEW YORK (AP) -- A convicted child molester who was long suspected in a 1979 missing child case plans to invoke his right against self-incrimination if called to testify in the murder trial of a man now charged with the crime, his lawyer said Friday.

It's not yet clear what questions Jose Ramos might ultimately be asked or have to answer in the trial stemming from Etan Patz's disappearance, or whether there's specific information he doesn't want to divulge. His lawyer, Frank Rothman, would only say that Ramos "has no desire to speak to anybody about this."

"He plans on invoking whatever Fifth Amendment rights he has," Rothman said, referring to the constitutional provision against self-incrimination.

Former convenience store stock clerk Pedro Hernandez is set to go on trial next month in a case that helped propel the cause of missing children to the fore. Six-year-old Etan disappeared while walking to his Manhattan school bus stop. His body was never found. He became one of the first missing children ever pictured on a milk carton.

Hernandez became a suspect in 2012 after police got a tip that he'd made statements to relatives and acquaintances about having harmed a child in New York years ago. He then gave police a videotaped confession saying he lured the boy into the convenience store basement and choked him.

Police and prosecutors found his confession credible. Hernandez's lawyers say he falsely confessed because of mental problems.

No one else has ever been charged, but over the years, other suspects had come under scrutiny - especially Ramos, who had been dating Etan's baby sitter and who later was convicted of abusing two boys in Pennsylvania.

A former federal prosecutor said Ramos had given him a "90 percent confession" in Etan's case - but stopped short of saying he had killed the boy or that it was definitely Etan - and two jailhouse snitches said Ramos made admissions to them, though he has since denied involvement. Etan's parents pursued a wrongful-death lawsuit against Ramos, and after he stopped cooperating with questioning, a court ruled him responsible.

Ramos did say during questioning that he never encountered the missing boy. He complained in recent years about being linked to Etan's disappearance.

But Hernandez's defense wants jurors to hear about, and from, Ramos.

The Manhattan district attorney's office has made clear it views Hernandez as the killer. Prosecutors have asked a judge to make sure that any evidence about Ramos will meet legal standards for relevance and not turn the trial "into a free-form, multi-ringed circus of competing suspects." Prosecutors declined to comment Friday on Ramos' plans to invoke his rights against self-incrimination.

Hernandez's defense argues that the former investigation into Ramos is relevant. Even if a judge decides Ramos has a right not to answer some questions about Etan's death, "there are many questions he should be answering that go to motive and opportunity and background, and we believe he should be put on the witness stand," Hernandez lawyer Harvey Fishbein said.

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