NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The suspect in the infamous 1979 disappearance of a 6-year-old New York City boy says has been indicted on charges of murder and kidnapping.
Pedro Hernandez, 51, is charged with two counts of second degree murder and one count of first degree kidnapping in the disappearance of Etan Patz. Hernandez, of Maple Shade, N.J., confessed to the 1979 killing the boy earlier this year. That confession remains the only evidence against him, WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported.
WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reports
Attorney Harvey Fishbein, who represents Hernandez, said his client is mentally ill and has a history of hallucinations.
“I just think it’s important to note that nothing that will occur in the course of this trial will answer what actually happened to Etan Patz,” Fishbein said. “The indictment is based solely on statements allegedly made by my client, who has, in the past, been repeatedly diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia.”
Fishbein said Hernandez “has an IQ in the borderline-to-mild mental retardation range.”
“This indictment is the outcome of a lengthy and deliberative process, involving months of factual investigation and legal analysis. We believe the evidence that Mr. Hernandez killed Etan Patz to be credible and persuasive, and that his statements are not the product of any mental illness,” said Erin Duggan of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. “The grand jury has found sufficient evidence to charge the defendant and this is a case that we believe should be presented to a jury at trial.”
The defense and prosecution could be setting up for a battle in court, said CBS This Morning senior correspondent John Miller.
“That sets the stage for a Perry Mason drama where you’re going to see Pedro Hernandez, who has confessed on videotape to the crime, and a lawyer who’s going to say ‘my client has a 20-year history of being schizophrenic,'” Miller told CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider.
“Mrs. Hernandez has always firmly believed that any statements her husband allegedly made are wholly unreliable and could only be the product of what she knew and witnessed herself over the years of delusions and hallucinations,” attorney Robert Gottlieb told CBS 2’s Schneider.
Police have described the investigation into Patz’s murder as an exercise in beating a dead horse, Cornell reported.
In the three decades since Patz’s death, detectives have interviewed more than 300 relatives, neighbors and schoolmates of Hernandez, now 51.
Hernandez worked at a convenience store near Etan’s home when the boy disappeared.
Hernandez said he lured the boy from the bus stop with the promise of a soda before suffocating him in the basement of the store, according to prosecutors.
Earlier this year, investigators ordered a SoHo basement to be ripped up in the search for physical evidence. Two landfills and a storage facility were also searched but no evidence was found.
The most promising discovery was a box hidden in the ceiling rafters of Hernandez’s attic bedroom in New Jersey.
The box contained boy’s underwear, blue shorts and yellow Matchbox car but none of the items could be linked to Patz.
Hernandez was due back in court on Thursday.
Last week, another suspect in Patz’s disappearance was taken into police custody.
Jose Ramos was released from a Pennsylvania prison Wednesday then immediately arrested on a Megan’s Law violation after providing an outdated address of where he would be residing, state police said.
Ramos was taken into custody following his release from prison where he spent more than 20 years for molesting children.
Ramos had long been suspected in the disappearance of Patz, who vanished May 25, 1979 after leaving his Manhattan home to go to a bus stop two blocks away. It was the first time his parents had let him go off to school alone.
Ramos had been dating the boy’s babysitter and later served time in Pennsylvania for molesting two other boys.
A second suspect could set up an interesting proposition for the defense, Miller told Schneider.
“I anticipate that defense lawyer will do the logical thing, which is to put Jose Antonio Ramos, who for years was the prime suspect and is the subject of a lot of circumstantial evidence with his connections to the Patzs, their babysitter, their children, to put him on trial as the alternative suspect,” Miller said.
Etan’s disappearance caused a frenzy in New York City. It also prompted huge changes in the way missing child cases were handled. Etan was the first missing child to appear on the back of a milk carton and his case turned May 25 into National Missing Children’s Day.
His parents never moved or changed their phone number, in case he returned. In 2001, they obtained a court order officially declaring their son dead.
Ramos was declared responsible for Etan’s death in a civil court in 2004, but the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has said there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him criminally. Ramos has denied any involvement in Etan’s disappearance.
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