NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A judge on Monday reversed a wrongful-death judgment against a longtime suspect in a notorious case of Etan Patz – the boy who infamously went missing in New York City 37 years ago and was never found.

The judgment against Jose Ramos was reversed last week. Although never criminally charged, he had been held civilly liable for Etan’s death.

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The 6-year-old vanished en route to a bus stop in 1979. His body was never found, but he was declared dead in 2001.

Etan Patz (credit: Stanley K. Patz)

Etan Patz (credit: Stanley K. Patz)

The investigation stretched across decades and continents. For years, Patz and many others blamed Ramos, a convicted pedophile acquainted with a woman who sometimes walked Etan home from school.

Ramos emerged as a suspect in the 1980s and was later convicted of sexually assaulting boys in Pennsylvania. He told federal authorities about interacting with a child he was all but sure was Etan on the day he vanished.

Etan’s father, Stan Patz, was so sure of Ramos’ guilt that he mailed a copy of Etan’s missing poster to Ramos in prison each year, asking: “What did you do to my little boy?”

Patz filed a suit that led to a finding that Ramos was responsible, by default, after he stopped cooperating with questioning. Manhattan prosecutors concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Ramos criminally, but current DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr. pledged to re-examine the case after meeting with Patz while campaigning in 2009.

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Then a 2012 tip led to Pedro Hernandez, 54, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, who had worked at a shop by Etan’s school bus stop. Police learned that he’d told people years before on three separate occasions that he’d killed a child in New York. Then he confessed to police he’d choked Etan and left his body — never found — in a box in an alley.

Hernandez was charged in 2012 with Etan’s murder. He initially confessed but later denied culpability.

Hernandez, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, is set for retrial this fall after a jury deadlocked last year.

Patz said last year that he found Hernandez’s confessions at tiral chillingly powerful. And he viewed the defense’s false-confession argument — which centered on mental illness and a very low IQ — as “psychobabble.”

Ramos’ attorney welcomes the vacated judgment. Hernandez’s lawyer declined comment on the latest development.

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