PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A clinical professor of law said the legal declaration that Ayla Reynolds is dead could bring new leads for investigators.
A judge legally declared the toddler dead Wednesday, following a request from the child's mother, Trista Reynolds. Ayla went missing in December of 2011.
Jim Burke works at the University of Maine School of Law, and said Wednesday that this declaration is an important first step in establishing a civil suit against the child's father, Justin DiPietro, whom she was last seen with. DiPietro told investigators Ayla was abducted, but they have found no evidence to support that claim.
The Reynolds family plans to file a wrongful death suit, which they could not do before without proof of the child's death.
While the declaration does not guarantee the Reynolds family a win in the civil suit, it allows their lawyers to get people to testify under oath, which could bring new information.
The lawyers could ask questions that could lead to answers about if, and/or how Ayla died -- even if those people plead the Fifth Amendment, which allows someone to not give up information that could incriminate him or her.
"The court can therefore draw an inference that the answer would have been 'I did something,' because you can only claim a Fifth Amendment right if the answer could hurt you, so in the civil suit, they can draw a negative inference if the work is done correctly," said Burke.
Burke said that even if the court chooses to draw that inference, that information in the testimony could not be used in a criminal case against that person, but it is possible some details could give investigators new leads.