NEW YORK — While prosecutors weigh what to do about a suspect who surfaced in the 1979 disappearance of Etan Patz, a 6-year-old last seen walking to his Manhattan school bus stop, the man who was the prime suspect is about to go free after more than two decades in prison for molesting other children.
The new suspect, Pedro Hernandez, has been charged with Etan’s death after police said he emerged as a suspect and confessed this spring. But there’s no public indication that authorities have found anything beyond his admission to implicate him, and his lawyer has said he is mentally ill.
The Pennsylvania inmate, Jose Ramos, was declared responsible for Etan’s death in a civil court, but the Manhattan district attorney has said there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him criminally.
After serving 25 years on child molestation convictions in Pennsylvania, he is set to be freed Nov. 7, about a week before prosecutors are due to indicate whether they believe there is evidence enough to keep going after Hernandez.
Etan’s disappearance made national news and raised awareness about children’s safety, turning him into a symbol for the issue: He was among the first vanished youngsters ever pictured on a milk carton. The day of his disappearance, May 25, is now National Missing Children’s Day.
Hernandez, who worked at a store near Etan’s home when the boy disappeared, wasn’t a suspect until a tipster contacted police this spring.