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Etan Patz Suspect Pedro Hernandez Makes Brief Court Appearance

Attorney Fishbein: Confession Should Not Be Trusted Due To Mental Illness
Pedro Hernandez in court on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 (credit: CBS 2)

Pedro Hernandez in court on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 (credit: CBS 2)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The attorney for the man accused of killing 6-year-old Etan Patz 33 years ago said Thursday that his client will plead not guilty to the charges against him.

Pedro Hernandez, 51, did not speak during his brief court proceeding Thursday morning. His next court date was set for Dec. 12 when he will have a chance to enter a plea. A judge ordered him held without bail.

1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reports

His lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, said Hernandez was fit to stand trial, but that his client’s alleged confession in the case is false.

“The statements made by client are not reliable,” Fishbein said after court. “The really sad part of this case is that it will take time, it will take money — and it will not tell the city what happened to Etan Patz.

“The problem is some people do confess to things they don’t do and it’s been scientifically shown thru DNA exoneration.”

Hernandez was indicted by a grand jury on murder and kidnapping charges on Wednesday. His wife and daughter were in the courtroom Thursday as the charges against him were read aloud.

“They know better than anyone else the history of psychological illness, the hallucinations the delusions and because of that, they don’t buy for a moment the validity the credibility of the so-called confession,” said Hernandez family attorney Robert Gottleib.

In May, police said Hernandez confessed to killing the little boy back in 1979 after luring him into the basement of a SoHo Bodega on the promise of a soda.

Hernandez worked at the Bodega that once stood near Etan’s bus stop. The day he disappeared was the first time his parents had let him go off to school alone.

Fishbein said his client is mentally ill and has a history of hallucinations.

“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 in a statement on Wednesday.

WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reports

He also called the prosecution’s case against Hernandez flimsy and said his client’s confession can’t be backed up with other evidence.

“Nothing that occurs in the course of this trial will answer what actually happened to Etan Patz,” he said.

But the Manhattan district attorney’s office disagreed.

“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 M. Duggan, spokeswoman for District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.

However, there are wrinkles in the case.

CBS News Senior Correspondent John Miller said it’s not just the lack of evidence that makes the case challenging for prosecutors, but also the recent release of one-time prime suspect Jose Ramos.

“I anticipate the defense lawyer will do the logical thing — to put Jose Antonio Ramos, who for years was the prime suspect and is the subject of a lot of circumstantial evidence and who is connected to the Patzs with their babysitter and their children, put him on trial as the alternative suspect,” Miller said.

Ramos was declared responsible for Etan’s death in a civil court in 2004, but the Manhattan DA’s office said there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him criminally. Ramos has denied any involvement in the case.

Ramos was released from a Pennsylvania prison last week where he spent more than 20 years for molesting children. But he was immediately arrested on a Megan’s Law violation after providing an outdated address of where he would be residing, state police said.

He appeared in court in Pennsylvania on that charge on Thursday.

Hernandez’s attorney said the case against Ramos will be a centerpiece of their own defense.

“The evidence that is quite considerable against Mr. Ramos should be evidence that’s available to be considered in this case,” said Fishbein.

Etan’s parents never moved or changed their phone number in case their son returned. In 2001, they obtained a court order officially declaring their son dead.

Etan’s disappearance caused a frenzy in New York City and prompted huge changes in the way missing child cases were handled.

He was the first missing child to appear on the back of a milk carton and May 25, the day he went missing, was later named National Missing Children’s Day.

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