WILKES-BARRE — Jose A. Ramos’ attorney told a Luzerne County jury to remember that he had paid his debt to society for molesting children three decades ago.
The jury determined he has a new debt yet to be paid.
Ramos, 70, was convicted Thursday afternoon after a two-day trial on a charge of providing false information when prison officials approached him in October 2012 to ask where he planned to live after his sentence ended on Nov. 7, 2012, about three weeks later.
He now faces five to 10 years behind bars when sentenced before Judge David W. Lupas on March 10. Lupas revoked Ramos’ $75,000 bail pending sentencing.
Defense attorney Tom Marsilio said he and his client were disappointed by the verdict, and that Ramos plans to appeal after sentencing.
“Certainly, I’m happy that we got the conviction,” said Luzerne County Deputy District Attorney Alexis Falvello.
Ramos was long a suspect in the disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz, who vanished May 25, 1979, after leaving his Manhattan, N.Y., home bound for a bus stop two blocks away. Ramos was later declared responsible for Patz’s death in a civil court, but the Manhattan district attorney’s office said there wasn’t enough evidence for criminal charges.
In 2012, a former convenience store clerk confessed to murdering Patz, according to police. Ramos has been ordered to testify in the April 23 trial of Pedro Hernandez in New York, and is fighting the order.
But his only link to Northeastern Pennsylvania is that he spent much of his prison sentence for molesting children in western Pennsylvania incarcerated at SCI-Dallas.
It wasn’t molestation that led Ramos back to prison, but his sworn statement to prison officials that he planned to live at 944 Leggett Ave., Bronx, N.Y., following release. He listed that as the apartment of a cousin, Mildred Otero-Valentine.
Prosecutors said investigation revealed the relative Ramos said he was going to live with hadn’t lived in the apartment since 1983, had a different last name from the one he provided and no intention of communicating with an estranged cousin she hadn’t seen in more than 30 years, let alone live with him. That cousin, whose name is actually Mildred Lebron, testified as much when she appeared in court on Wednesday.
“I thought, and I understood, that if I didn’t give an address, they weren’t going to release me,” Ramos testified when he took the stand on Thursday.
So, the Bronx native said, he listed 944 Leggett Ave., formerly his grandmother’s residence, where he knew other relatives, including Lebron, had lived.
“My parents didn’t love me. But my grandmother loved me. She would stick up for me a lot,” Ramos said.
“My intentions were to go there and see if my cousin still lived there,” Ramos said. “After that, if I couldn’t stay there, I was going to go to the nearest precinct” to register, and tell them he was homeless.
Arguing the law
Marsilio and Ramos argued state law gives offenders up to 48 hours to register with police after a move. Falvello countered that that provision applies to non-incarcerated offenders who are moving, and that Ramos’ responsibility fell under a provision requiring inmates to inform prison officials of their intended residence 10 days before release. Failure to knowingly provide accurate information is a felony.
The issue clearly resonated with jurors, who asked to have the relevant sections of state law read back to them midway through deliberations, which lasted less than two hours.
Further, Falvello said, testimony by prison officials revealed that Ramos knew he had the option of indicating that he would be homeless, which was a valid answer if he indicated any areas where he planned to stay, such as a hotel or even a park.
Ramos said his prison counselor, Frank DePiero, was hostile toward him when he formerly worked as a corrections officer, and was not helpful to Ramos in locating a shelter that would take sex offenders or in making other necessary arrangements to secure a residence.
Falvello pointed to correspondence between Ramos and a Nevada pen-pal, identified as Janet Hicks, which included discussion of finding hotel rooms in New York after Ramos’ release and going from there to Florida to seek out any living relatives and visit his parents’ grave. There was no mention of Lebron or the Bronx apartment, she noted.
Falvello also pointed out that Ramos also contacted a rabbi, Howard Cohen, who was to pick him up from prison.
“You made arrangements with Cohen. You made arrangements with Hicks for ‘Plan B,’” Falvello said. “The one thing you did not do was to make any arrangements to live at 944 Leggett Ave.”