Mistrial declared in 1979 case of missing NYC boy Etan Patz

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Josh Einiger reports from SoHo. (WABC)

The judge in the Etan Patz murder case declared a mistrial on Friday after the jury failed to reach a verdict following 18 days of deliberations.

Jurors had been deliberating the case involving the 1979 disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz against Pedro Hernandez since April 15.

Prosecutors have asked for a new trial date. A hearing will be held June 10 to discuss a new date. Hernandez will remain in jail.

Pedro Hernandez and Etan Patz


"I would like to thank the Patz family for the courage and determination they have shown over the past 36 years, and particularly throughout this trial. The legacy they have built in the four decades since this tragedy occurred, both in raising awareness about the plight of missing children and through the creation of laws to protect them, has made our city, and our society, safer for children," District Attorney Vance said in a statement after the mistrial was declared.

Vance says he believes "there is clear and corroborated evidence of the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

Jurors had told the judge twice before that they were deadlocked, but he ordered them then to keep deliberating. After the mistrial was declared, jurors revealed that they were originally split 8-4 in favor of a guilty verdict, and ended up 11-1 in favor of guilty.



If Etan Patz were alive today, he'd be 41 years old.

So many years after he vanished, his family's long ordeal is still not over.

"We are frustrated and very disappointed the jury has been unable to come to a decision," said Stan Patz, Etan's father. "Etan was a beautiful, outgoing, friendly, curious little kid. He would have made a great adult. But that's what got him killed, because he was willing to go with this *expletive* downstairs."

"I would say I'm sorry," said Jennifer O'Connor, juror number 10.

On day 18 of deliberations after a three month trial, a visibly frustrated jury of seven men and five women told a judge they were nowhere and hopelessly deadlocked in the case of Pedro Hernandez.

Adam Sirois was juror number 11 (Seated on the left) and the lone holdout.



"I couldn't find enough evidence that wasn't circumstantial to convict. I couldn't get there," Sirois said.

"Something just took over me and I just choke him," Pedro Hernandez said in a recorded confession.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Hernandez revived New York's most infamous cold case, when he confessed in 2013 to killing Etan, who vanished in May of 1979, the first day his parents let him walk to the school bus alone.

Because police never found a body or any forensic evidence linking to Hernandez, his attorney portrayed him as mentally ill, claiming he made the whole thing up for attention.

When the judge declared the mistrial Friday, Hernandez asked his lawyer one question.

"Does that mean I don't have to come back on Monday?" said Harvey Fishbein, defense attorney.

Not Monday, but he will be back. The Manhattan DA immediately requested another trial.

"I personally urge the DA's Office to please pursue the matter again," said Tyrell Lyne-Matori, juror number three.

"Nothing's impossible; they'll get him next time. Pedro Hernandez, you know what you did," said Alia Dahhan, the jury foreperson.

Etan was among the first missing children pictured on milk cartons. His parents helped shepherd in an era of law enforcement advances that make it easier to track missing children and communicate between agencies. They were at the White House when Ronald Reagan named May 25 National Missing Children's Day.

The case has baffled authorities for decades.

While New York City detectives frantically searched for the sandy-haired boy, Hernandez moved back to New Jersey and slipped off the radar. His name appears in police files only once until 2012, when he confessed to choking the boy in the basement of the shop, then putting the body in a bag, putting the bag in a banana box and walking it about two blocks away where he dumped it.

But Etan's body was never found. Nor was any trace of clothing or his belongings.

Several members of a prayer circle, an ex-wife and a friend testified that Hernandez had told them at different points during the past three decades that he'd harmed a boy in New York. The jury watched hours of his confession and heard from Julie Patz, Etan's mother, who recounted in clear, sad detail the last time she saw her son.

"Etan is larger than his very little important life," Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said during closing arguments. "He represents a moment in this city where there was a loss of innocence."

But no physical evidence tied Hernandez to the crime; the corner store closed in the early 1980s. No DNA was found. Hernandez's ex-wife testified that she once saw part of Etan's missing-child poster in a box belonging to Hernandez, but authorities turned up nothing.

"As I told you in the very beginning, Pedro Hernandez is the only witness against himself," defense attorney Harvey Fishbein said during closing arguments. "The stories he told over the years, including in 2012, and since, are the only evidence. Yet he is inconsistent and unreliable."

"Pedro Hernandez is not a child killer," Fishbein said.

Fishbein argued the admission was false, the fictional raving of a mentally ill man, and pointed to longtime suspect Jose Ramos, a convicted pedophile who admitted to a federal prosecutor that he had been with Etan the day the boy vanished, according to testimony.

A former jailhouse informant who was working with them gave a stomach-turning account of conversations he had with Ramos that included details on molesting Etan. Manhattan prosecutors never felt there was enough evidence to charge him with the crime.

Hernandez's attorneys had sought to question Ramos on the witness stand but he said he would invoke his right against self-incrimination. He has refused to comment about this case, and says he didn't have anything to do with Etan's disappearance.

Police were brought to Hernandez's door after his brother-in-law called in a tip. He'd seen news reports of an FBI excavation in the SoHo neighborhood linked to the case, after it had been dormant for years. He testified he had long suspected his brother-in-law had been involved in the death of the child.

Following the mistrial, Stan Patz said, "I am so convinced Pedro Hernandez kidnapped and killed my son back on May 25, 1979. He is a guilty man who has been conscious stricken due to his deeds and haunted by demons ever since that day."


(Some information from the Associated Press.)
Related Topics:
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