Suppose hypothetically speaking that a six-year old child disappeared without a trace in lower Manhattan in 1979. Suppose further that there are two suspects in this disappearance. One is a mentally diminished man who worked at a local deli just a few blocks from where the boy lived. This man has several psychiatric issues and has a very low IQ, but has no history of violence either before or after the event. Suppose this man went on to live a somewhat normal life in which he raised a family in New Jersey. Suppose there is absolutely no allegation that he ever harmed anyone ever other than this one time where he brutally murdered a six-year old boy. Suppose the other suspect is the boyfriend of the boy’s babysitter. Suppose this person is a known child molester who was twice convicted of molesting children, one who was six and one who was eight. Suppose the suspect with no record, but who has an IQ of approximately 70 spent multiple hours with detectives off camera before he gave a 35 minute confession on camera to killing the kid and then “throwing him out” like garbage on the street. Suppose the convicted child molester also made a statement to a different prosecutor that he was “90 percent sure” he molested the boy right around the time he went missing. Who would you think was the boy’s killer?
Of course, this isn’t much of a hypothetical. The missing boy is Etan Patz. The convicted child molester who dated the babysitter of the boy and who is “90 percent sure” he molested the boy is a man named Jose Ramos. And the mentally diminished man who “confessed” to killing the boy, but who went on to raise a family with no allegations of further violence is Pedro Hernandez. The Manhattan DA’s Office has decided that the person who committed the murder is Hernandez.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office prides itself as being the finest prosecuting office in the world. The gold standard so to speak. What I find genuinely perplexing is why the District Attorney’s Office does not think that Ramos is actually the killer? Why are they so sure that it was Hernandez? I don’t mean this to sound rhetorical. I really don’t know why. One would hope that they can exclude Ramos as the true killer because they have some sort of irrefutable evidence that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ramos couldn’t have been the killer. Something like evidence that would show that Ramos was incarcerated in another state during the timeframe when Etan Patz disappeared. One would hope that it’s not solely because of Hernandez’s confession. Especially in a world where numerous scientific studies have suggested that false confessions are not only possible, but are also common. Especially when the confessor is mentally diminished.
I have no idea why they are so sure Ramos isn’t the killer. But I do know this. When the lead prosecutor in the case is going to give her summation, she is going to ask the jury to find Hernandez guilty of killing Etan Patz because the evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty. What the jury won’t hear is that the reason the defense attorney was unable to call Ramos as a witness was because he was going to assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The significance of this is that when a person asserts his Fifth Amendment rights, the prosecutor can still compel his testimony by granting him immunity. A defense attorney doesn’t have that power. Here, the the DA’s Office refuses to grant Ramos immunity. Why not? Surely, if they have no reasonable doubts (which they will tell a jury that they shouldn’t have) about the fact that they are trying the right killer, why would they be so scared to hear what this other guy has to say?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. I just hope that my fear that some of the parties who involved in this case aren’t more concerned with winning it than they are with doing the right thing aren’t true.