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Etan Patz Suspect Pedro Hernandez Pleads Not Guilty

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

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

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – The man charged with killing a 6-year-old New York City boy in 1979 has pleaded not guilty to murder despite police saying he confessed to the crime.

The defense of a man charged with killing a 6-year-old boy in 1979 will revolve around his mental state and a false confession to the crime, but he is not pursuing an insanity defense in the sensational case, his attorney said.

Pedro Hernandez, 51, appeared in court Wednesday afternoon for an arraignment on the murder charge in the death of Etan Patz. Patz disappeared on his way to a school bus stop more than three decades ago.

Hernandez will maintain he didn’t kill Etan and argue he made a false confession because of his mental problems, among other factors, his attorney Harvey Fishbein said. An insanity defense would mean acknowledging he committed the crime but arguing that he was too psychologically ill to know it was wrong.

“The only part that mental disease plays in this case is its role in the confession,” he said before the court date.

Psychiatric exams of the jailed Hernandez have found that he has an IQ in the borderline-to-mild mental retardation range, his lawyer has said.

Hernandez also has been found to suffer from schizotypal personality disorder, which is characterized by hallucinations, according to his lawyer.

“The statements made by client are not reliable,” Fishbein said last month.

Hernandez was working at a SoHo Bodega that once stood near Etan’s bus stop when the little boy disappeared on May 25, 1979.

Etan’s disappearance led to an intensive search and spawned a movement to publicize cases of missing children. His photo was among the first put on milk cartons and his case turned May 25 into National Missing Children’s Day.

Earlier this year, Hernandez was approached based on a tip that came after federal authorities dug up a basement in the neighborhood hoping for clues, putting the cold case back into the limelight once again.

Police said Hernandez confessed to killing Etan after luring him into the basement of the Bodega on the promise of a soda. He told police he choked Etan and left his body in a bag of trash about a block away, according to authorities.

But Fishbein said his client is mentally ill and has a history of hallucinations. He also called the prosecution’s case flimsy and said his client’s confession can’t be backed up with other evidence.

Etan’s body has never been found.

His 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.

One-time prime suspect Jose 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, now 69, had been dating the boy’s baby sitter in 1979. He has denied any involvement in the case.

Fishbein 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,” he said.

Ramos was released from a Pennsylvania prison last month where he spent more than 20 years for molesting two different children.

He was immediately re-arrested on a Megan’s Law violation after providing an outdated address of where he would be residing, state police said.

Ramos was ordered to stand trial on those charges.

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)