NEW YORK (AP) — A former jailhouse informant testified Thursday that someone other than the man on trial for killing 6-year-old Etan Patz admitted decades ago to kidnapping and molesting him.
Jeffrey Rothschild, now 67, took the stand for the defense representing Pedro Hernandez, who confessed to police that he killed the boy. His attorneys say the confession was a delusion and their client is mentally ill.
Etan vanished on his way to school in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood in 1979. His disappearance helped galvanize the modern-day missing children's movement, with his picture one of the first to appear on a milk carton. His body was never found.
Hernandez was a teenage stock clerk at the convenience store where Etan was headed the morning of May 25, 1979. In hours of a videotaped confession, Hernandez calmly recounts choking the boy, putting his body in a bag and putting the bag in a box, then walking it down the street. Prosecutors point to admissions he made over decades where he told a prayer circle, his ex-wife and a friend that he'd killed a child in New York.
Hernandez's lawyers, however, suggest that another longtime suspect, convicted pedophile Jose Ramos, is the real killer.
Rothschild says Ramos admitted molesting the boy while the men were roommates in prison. Ramos was never charged in Etan's disappearance, but he was considered the prime suspect for decades. Rothschild says Ramos recounted in horrifying detail how he molested Etan and many other boys.
"I've never been the same since that day," Rothschild said. "I thought my life was just a total wreck and a complete and total mess, but there are other people deeper or darker than me."
Ramos never admitted killing Etan. Rothschild met Ramos when they were both at a prison in Otisville, and he agreed to help prosecutors by trying to get a confession. Rothschild, a self-proclaimed con man, had been in and out of prison for various scams when he crossed paths with Ramos.
He said Ramos told him he "loved" Etan and "honored him every day." When Rothschild asked if the boy was dead, Ramos spat: "Of course he's dead. But there is no proof."
Ramos told then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart GraBois that he picked up Etan at Washington Square Park and took him back to his apartment to molest him. But the boy refused, and he put him on the subway. Rothschild recounted how Ramos told him he lied about saying he picked up the boy in the park and drew him a map of the neighborhood that included "X'' marks where he actually grabbed the boy.
Ramos could have known Etan because his girlfriend, Susan Harrington, had been hired to walk Etan and other neighborhood kids home from school during a bus strike. Ramos said he often molested Harrington's son, who later killed himself.