John Walsh on the Etan Patz Case: 'The Not Knowing Kills You'

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John Walsh at the 17th annual congressional breakfast to commemorate National Missing Children's Day at 345 Cannon House Office Building on May 23, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

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Pedro Hernandez was arrested based on his confession and the account of one of his relatives, so there is skepticism on whether or not he can be convicted without any physical evidence. Why might police believe they have a solid case?

They have to trust their gut. I've done many, many cases with NYPD. I think cops look back on the fact that he confessed to a group 20 years ago, he came forward because of all the publicity and that his sister called, so they had to look at him and I think that they think the circumstantial [evidence] they have is enough. I've been involved in hundreds of cases since Adam was murdered and only one have they been able to convict a guy based on circumstantial and a confession and no body. Lots of defense attorneys know: no body? It's gonna be a real tough case to prove. If this guy's adamant about his confession and the D.A. pushes hard and they make a deal, he might get life or 20 or whatever and that would end the Patzes case. I think it's gonna be a tough case to make. I think it's gonna be a tough case to prosecute.

He was arraigned at Bellevue Hospital Center while under suicide watch. Wouldn't it make sense for him to have a psychiatric evaluation before any arraignment to determine whether or not any psychosis played a role in his confession to police?

You arrest somebody, you think you have enough and you go to the D.A. and you go to a grand jury and you say I think I got a dangerous guy, don't forget he confessed to the murder of a six year old child. It works different in every state, but in New York State, they'll be able to determine whether he can stand trial, whether he's psychologically capable. But they did the right thing, they arrested him, they'll interview him, they'll determine if he should stand trial or if he should be committed to a mental institution for the rest of his life.

[There are people who were suspected, had their names put out and even in one case, had a judge determine his guilt, who now could well be deemed innocent. So what do we say, particularly to people like Othneil Miller, who now seems to have had nothing to do with this at all?]

This has to play out. I've been all over the world and I believe we do have the fairest criminal justice system. Nobody wants to see an innocent person arrested or convicted so this has to bear out before everybody jumps the gun and says this is the guy or this isn't the guy, it has to go through the tortuous process. So if someone was a suspect and accused that's a tough thing, but I don't think anybody really knows who killed Etan Patz, it's a trite and long played out cliché, but it isn't over until the fat lady sings.

When the Patzes sued to get [another suspect and convicted pedophile Jose Ramos] convicted and the civil judge declared Ramos guilty, the Patzes thought this journey was over. Ramos was in jail, and in their hearts I think they believed that this case was solved and that Ramos was the one that murdered their son. I think that's part of why they are not speaking and they are not coming forward. They may have their own doubts about this guy. I think they thought that horrible chapter ended even though they didn't get any remains of Etan, I think this is a real tough time for them. If Hernandez is declared incompetent this will be that dangling question for them forever.

What about law enforcement? In the Etan Patz case you had two different law enforcement agencies, the NYPD and the FBI that initially didn't come up with much. So do you think law enforcement agencies can do a better job of working with each other on finding missing kids?

I've said that since Adam went missing in '81. I asked the captain and the detective who was in charge of Adam's case if I could get the phone number of every police agency in Florida. I had no idea there were over 300 of them. I had my office staff call every one of those police agencies, whether they were city cops, metro cops, sheriffs, state police, whatever the police agency was, and 80 percent of them didn't know six-year-old Adam Walsh was missing from Broward County, Fla.

I've spent my whole life working with police and I have great respect for them. In those days they didn't have the tools and they didn't have the training, now you do have joint fugitive task forces. The FBI was vocally opposed to us putting any information about a missing child in the National Crime Information Computer. It had literally tens of thousands of missing cars, stolen planes, boats, a race horse and no unidentified dead or missing children. But things have gotten better and police agencies work together. Maybe they didn't work together back 33 years ago when Etan went missing, but the Missing Children's Bill forced them into it and now they have a huge presence at the NCMEC, they run their Innocent Images program.

"Thousands of children go missing in this country each year, but in the media we only see a fraction of them. Do you think there might be a disparity in the attention some cases get, particularly when it comes to racial or economic background?. I'm sure you've seen TVOne's Find Our Missing, which brings some attention to the issue, but there's more that can be done when it comes to bringing everyone into this picture, right?

If your child is blonde Adam Walsh or blonde Elizabeth Smart, or JonBenet Ramsey, it captivates the nation's attention and you make the news cycle. It's not a planned prejudice, it's not something that's on the conscious level of editors or people who own newspapers or magazines. I've done hundreds of kids of color; black, Hispanic kids, Filipino kids that have been missing and they might have made a news blip. They made publicity in the area they were from, but they drop off the radar. I could name 50 kids that went missing that nobody's even heard of.

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