Updated 04/20/2012 09:32 PM
Lawyer Hired For New Person Of Interest In Etan Patz Case
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As federal and local investigators work through the weekend in SoHo looking for possible fresh clues in the 1979 disappearance of Etan Patz, a lawyer for the man who's identified as a new person of interest in the case told reporters Friday his client denies any involvement and has been cooperating with authorities for more than 30 years.
Acting on what they called "new information," the New York City Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation started searching the basement at 127 Prince Street Thursday.
It's less than a block from the building where Patz lived with his parents before he went missing on May 25, 1979.
Officials at the scene tell NY1 that investigators and detectives are breaking up the concrete floor first, then transporting all pieces to secure dumpsters before digging into the dirt grade below.
"It is a slow process and we are committed to staying here for as long as we have to," said FBI New York Office Spokesman Tim Flannelly.
Sources say the basement was once a workspace for handyman Othneil Miller, who was reportedly friendly with Patz, and that a search dog recently picked up the smell of what could be a body.
Stephen Kuzma, the building's manager, says he remembers Miller, and also recalls that there was once a playroom for neighborhood kids down there.
"It's pretty awful. Gives you a creepy feeling in the stomach," Kuzma said.
Authorities will remain at the site for at least the next few days trying to uncover anything that could lead them to Patz after 33 years.
Patz left his home to walk to the bus stop alone for the first time when he vanished.
He was declared legally dead in 2001.
While it's unclear what information led authorities to 127 Prince Street, sources tell NY1 police are focusing on Othneil Miller as a new person of interest in the case.
Speaking to reporters gathered outside his Bedford-Stuyvesant home Friday, Miller's lawyer maintained he has been cooperating with the investigation since the beginning.
"Mr. Miller denies involvement with what happened to this beautiful young boy and he is going to remain cooperative to the extent that's reasonably possible, given this investigation," said Attorney Michael Farkas.
A mug shot of Miller, now in his 70s, was taken several years ago in Florida when he was charged with driving with a suspended license.
He's lived in his current home on Quincy Street for years.
NY1 talked to neighbors who were reluctant to appear on camera -- but told the station they don't believe Miller could be involved in Patz's disappearance.
"He's a man of God. He goes to church every week, every Sunday. He's a God-blessed man. That's all," said one neighbor.
"I'm just really shocked because he's someone I've known for the past five years and he's a very kind, wonderful man. He's got a family, he's a family man," said another neighbor.
Patz's family has long suspected Jose Ramos, a convicted child abuser and one time boyfriend of Etan's babysitter, of being responsible for Etan's death.
Etan's father, Stan Patz, posted a note on his door yesterday, saying he would not yet be speaking about the investigation.
Patz Case Remembered For Lasting Impact
Even 33 years after Patz disappeared, the case is remembered for its lasting impact on missing children.
Etan was the first child to appear on the back of a milk carton.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which helped push the the milk carton campaign, was formed in part to Etan's disappearance.
The organization's president says the tragedy sparked a revolution in parenting.
"A case like this really affected America's parents and it changed the way they parent. We've spent the last 30 years trying to put it into context and trying to say to parents, you don't have to be paralyzed by fear," said National Center for Missing and Exploited Children President Ernie Allen.
"This was a huge case in 1979. I was a lieutenant in the organized crime control bureau and I think it changed the way the country thought about missing children," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters Friday.
The May 25 anniversary of Etan's disappearance was declared National Missing Children's Day by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.