Almost from the beginning, it was suspected that Jose Ramos, a convicted sexual abuser who was the friend of Etan Patz’s babysitter, was the killer.  He was a prime suspect for nearly two decades.

So, how did a bodega worker suddenly become charged with the crime?

Ramos was known to lure young boys to sexually abuse them.  Police officers found photographs in Ramos’ possession of other boys that looked like Etan Patz. Ramos told an Assistant U.S. Attorney in 1990 that he took a boy back to his apartment to “rape” him and he was “90% sure” it was Etan Patz. Ramos never used Patz’s name and claimed that he did not kill the boy; he put him on a “subway” train.  While Ramos was incarcerated in Pennsylvania on an unrelated molestation case, another inmate told the federal authorities that Ramos knew what happened to Patz and that Ramos drew a map for him that showed Patz’s bus route.

Patz disappeared on May 25, 1979 while walking home from the school bus stop. Etan Patz became known as the Boy on the Milk Carton because his disappearance sparked the national effort to put photos of missing children on milk cartons. He is one of the U.S.’ most notorious missing child cases and May 25 is still National Missing Children’s Day.  His body was never found.

Patz was declared legally dead in 2001. Ramos has denied involvement in Patz’s disappearance.  Ramos served a 20-year prison term in the State Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania for child molestation. He was arrested immediately upon release in 2012 for a Megan’s Law violation.

Ironically, the same year Ramos was released from prison an anonymous tipster pointed authorities toward Pedro Hernandez. A man they never suspected.  After being questioned by police, Hernandez confessed, 4 times.

The case lacked all evidence – no witnesses, no weapon, no body, and no forensics. All police have is a confession.  One of the biggest issues with the confession was that Hernandez was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder and a low IQ. He suffered often from delusions. In addition, he was known to abuse drugs.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said he intends to retry Pedro Hernandez, 54, for the high-profile case.

Hernandez was just 18 when Patz went missing. He was a bodega clerk in the neighborhood. During his confessions, he said that he “grabbed him by the neck and started to choke him”. “It was like something took over me and, I don’t know, something just took over me and I choked him…”  In the confessions, Hernandez said he put Patz’s body in a box and left it to be taken with the garbage.

The notorious case became a little more so when the trial ended without a verdict and then everyone began pointing fingers.

The case lasted 4 months and the jurors deliberated for 18 days, in which they deadlocked 3 times.  The lone holdout juror was Adam Sirois who defended his decision in the face of multiple attacks by the jury, the victim’s family, and the public.

Adam said he couldn’t get past beyond a reasonable doubt. He didn’t understand why jurors thought that a couple of inconsistent confessions and some witnesses who said that a man with a history of delusions and drug use confessed to them was overwhelming evidence.

“I couldn’t find enough evidence that wasn’t circumstantial…” Adam said.

He said Hernandez’s confessions were “very bizarre”. He did not find fault with the other jurors who disagreed with him. He said the deliberations were “heated”, but not disrespectful. He also said it wasn’t “torture”.

The other jurors were not so courteous.

“To me, the evidence all pointed one way, and so I can only attribute his decision to hold out (to) ego,” said alternate juror Jennifer Truelove.

Juror Chris Giliberti said, “We never want to see him again…”

While at a Tribeca Grand Hotel lunch with the other jurors who wanted to convict (Adam did not attend or wasn’t invited), he called Adam’s belief that Hernandez was mentally ill “irrational”. Other jurors accused Adam of being a bully or a conspiracy theorist. They said, “He would get up and scream at us — ‘this is America. I don’t know why all of you place so much trust in the police! It was really crazy.”  They even called his arguments in favor of acquittal “arbitrary”. They also said that they just couldn’t work with him anymore.

Chris later told the media that Adam was “honest” and that all the jurors were confident in their positions, “He was the strongest consistent voice on that side… We deliberated long and hard, clearly… and it came out to be 11 to 1, guilty / not guilty…”  Despite the jurors steadfast anger at the lone holdout, when the deliberations first began it wasn’t so cut and dry. The jury deliberations began in a windowless room on the 7th floor of Manhattan’s courthouse. All of the jurors wrote their initial feelings about the evidence on a little piece of paper.

Juror Jennifer O’Connor said, there was “a large chunk of people” who were unsure about Hernandez’s guilt, they “hadn’t got…past reasonable doubt…it took a few days…”

7 guilty, 5 not guilty.  Slowly over two weeks, 4 of the 5 moved to a guilty verdict.

Juror Douglas Hitchner admitted that he initially believed Hernandez was guilty before being swayed to not guilty. He however changed his mind at the last minute leaving Adam as the lone not guilty vote.

Jury forewoman Alia Dahhan was the most staunch believer in Hernandez’s guilt. Visibly angry at a press conference she yelled, “Pedro Hernandez, you know what you did!”  Dahhan sent a text message to a Daily News reporter that read, “To sweet Etan: I am truly sorry. We really tried. Unfortunately, the world hasn’t changed. There are still bad people…there are still cowards…and there is still ignorance beyond belief. But I do believe that nothing is impossible and justice will be served…Rest in peace, beautiful boy.”

Many of the jurors expressed camaraderie with the prosecution.

Dahhan said, “I know that I can sleep at night. I went in with a completely clear mind, ready to hear both sides. I thought the prosecution did a great job.”

Juror “Tyrel” said, “I would just like them to know that we did our best and that we stand behind them in their urging of the DA’s office to pursue another trial.”

Adam defended his decision to stick to his vote, “When I went into the deliberation room, I started from a position of presuming innocence because…that’s where you should start. I was trying to move toward guilty. I feel other jurors’ verdicts started at guilty and were sort of trying to move toward innocence…”

“No matter how many times [he confessed], it got more and more bizarre. I feel that in the initial confession there were lots of issues [including] the fact that it wasn’t videoed for six or seven hours. I felt like mental health issues were a huge part of this case,” Adam said.

In the opposite opinion to Adam, Jennifer thought Hernandez’s mental illness proved he was guilty as well as his troubled history of drug abuse.

“It seemed to be a profile of someone who did something heinous and was trying to repress it, suppress it, bury it deep down and that was another big piece for me,” she said.

The jurors did admit that they heavily discussed the major suspect in the case Jose Ramos. The defense presented Ramos to the jury, a convicted pedophile who knew the Patz family and made incriminating statements in the years following the case.

“Which person is more likely to have been the predator?” defense attorney Harvey Fishbein asked jurors.

The defense said that the lack of corroborative evidence and forensics proved that the case was simple: the police couldn’t charge the real killer so they pinned it on a mentally ill man.  The jurors created Excel spreadsheets that were 100 rows long, with one column titled “Jose Ramos”. The column listed all the evidence against Ramos.

So what convinced the majority of jurors that Hernandez was the killer and not Ramos?

“The quantity of confessions over time is what swayed me to finally go guilty,” said Hitchner.

“The biggest piece of corroborating evidence for me was the SoHo walk,” said O’Connor, about the video of Hernandez walking police detectives through the alleged crime scene.

Edwin Thompson, 75, another juror said that he was swayed by the fact that several people said he confessed to them in the years following the crime and that they never retracted their statements. They were fellow church members, a childhood friend, and Hernandez’s ex-wife; the only other evidence against Hernandez other than his police confessions.

The trial’s deliberation was the longest in Manhattan court history since 1995, when a jury had trouble navigating a murder case against 9 Bronx gang members.

Stan Patz, the father of Etan Patz, attacked Adam and emphasized that Hernandez is 100% guilty. Despite Stan Patz’s assertion that he is positive Hernandez is the killer, he was once positive Ramos was the killer as well. In 2001, he had his son declared legally dead, just to sue Ramos in an attempt to force him to testify under oath about the case. There was a preponderance of the evidence that showed Ramos was in fact the killer. He was found civilly liable in 2004. Stan Patz proceeded to send Ramos a copy of Etan’s missing poster every year on the anniversary of his disappearance with the note “What did you do to my little boy?”

“I think Adam Sirois is a stubborn egoist…The other jurors were very unhappy with him. Seven of them are so outraged and embarrassed that they couldn’t convict Pedro Hernandez that they have sought a meeting with lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon to assist her in convicting him in a second trial…The defense had psychologist experts testify that Hernandez has a schizotypal personality, on the schizophrenic spectrum.  But if you pay psychologists enough money they can find something wrong with you or anyone. But this is a man who taught himself English and how to play the accordion on his own. He advised his daughter on how to use a credit card. Told his wife how to file tax returns. A man who never got fired from a job in his life for incompetency. I’ll tell you what’s ‘cuckoo’: Adam Sirois is cuckoo or looney saying that Hernandez’s confessions were some kind of police conspiracy. They didn’t give Hernandez the third degree. Believe me, I know what the third degree is. They gave my wife and I the third degree back in 1979…Manhattan DA Cy Vance and lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi told me that they had a man named Pedro Hernandez in custody.  To be honest, I thought they had another nut in custody. You have no idea how many nuts have contacted me over the years. I still believed that Jose Ramos was responsible for my son’s disappearance. I had sued him in civil court to try to smoke him out, to get him to show up and testify. But he refused to appear so I won by default…I am relieved that I now know that Pedro Hernandez murdered my son because the alternative scenarios of what Ramos might have done to Etan — including selling him to someone — are not things I have to think and dread about anymore. I finally have answers. I don’t like them. But they give me some relief, some closure…I think Hernandez did a terrible thing that day and was haunted by it,” he says. “That’s why he quit a $300-a-week job the next day and moved to New Jersey where he took an $89-a-week job. And later confessed to 10 others in his church group that he had killed a boy. Why they didn’t tell anyone right away I can’t say. But he did say he always expected a knock on his door. Hernandez is a religious man who needed to get this crime off his chest. But then when he got a taste of Rikers Island he decided that life in prison wasn’t what he had bargained for. And so he listened to his defense lawyer who presented him as someone who had hallucinations. And he convinced one stubborn juror to vote not guilty.”

Why Pedro Hernandez was never arrested or accused of pedophilia or any other crime is also a mystery. Pedophiles are hardly ever non-recidivists.

“This is never going to be an easy case,” Stan Patz says. “There’s no physical evidence. Many mistakes were made in this case that should have been solved in a day or a week 36 years ago. Why the bodega cellar was never thoroughly searched was a mistake. Why Pedro Hernandez who worked in the corner bodega was never a suspect was a mistake. He just was lucky to slip through the cracks. I don’t get to choose how my son died. But even if one juror refused to believe it, I now know how my son [died]…”

The Patz family said that they already have closure.

“We are frustrated and very disappointed…This man did it. He said it. How many times does a man have to confess before someone believes him? Maybe Pedro Hernandez is a different man, now that he’s mature and 54, but when he was 18 years old, he did something terrible, and he should pay for that…I don’t want to get teary over this. Etan was a beautiful, outgoing, friendly, curious little kid. He would have made a great adult. That’s what got him killed — because he was willing to go with this a**hole…”

“I would say that there’s only a resolution if the correct man is held responsible, and we firmly believe that Pedro Hernandez is not the right man,” defense attorney Harvey Fishbein said. “We are disappointed that there couldn’t be a resolution, but if the District Attorney’s office chooses to retry this case, we will be ready.”

And the D.A. did in true high-profile style announced the decision on a talk show.  Vance announced his intention to retry the accused on MSNBC’s The Cycle talk show. He did acknowledge to the public that the case doesn’t have much evidence. In fact, despite the passage of time and the lack of hard evidence, it may be surprising, but only one juror saw problems with a case that would have sent Hernandez to prison for the rest of his life.

Vance said, “It is a challenging case…Victims should not believe that law enforcement forgets about what happened to them, or to their families, simply because of the passage of time. I think some of the most powerful cases that I experience emotionally have been those where — going back 20 years — we’re able to bring closure to a family. The Etan Patz case, certainly. I intend to retry…The evidence put in by our prosecutors was compelling, and it was clear.  In our system, it happens from time to time that jurors cannot be unanimous.”

Vance said prosecutors will officially announce the retrial at Hernandez’s June 10 court date.

As most people know, this is at least the 2nd high profile case this year where a juror has been attacked for completing their civil duty both by following their conscience and the way they see the evidence or lack thereof.  He however also has supporters. One of his biggest supporters is a man who knows what it is like to go to prison for something you didn’t do and wants more jurors like Adam to stand up for reasonable doubt despite the backlash.

FURTHER READING:

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