Etan Patz Jury Tells Judge It’s Hung

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Jurors in the murder trial surrounding the disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979 said Wednesday they were deadlocked, but the judge told them to keep deliberating.

After 10 days of deliberations, the jury sent a midday note saying it couldn’t reach a unanimous decision in the trial of Pedro Hernandez. He’s accused of kidnapping and killing a boy whose disappearance helped galvanize a national movement to find missing children. Etan was among the first ever featured on a milk carton.

The defense argued for a mistrial, saying it was obvious the jury of seven men and five women was hung. Asking it to continue is inherently coercive, said lawyer Alice Fontier.

The judge denied the defense request and told jurors to keep deliberating.

“Given the nature of this case, I don’t think you’ve been considering this case long enough to conclude that you cannot reach a verdict,” state Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley told the weary-looking jurors.

“It’s not uncommon for a jury to have difficulty reaching a unanimous verdict in any case,” he noted, praising the jurors’ work so far.

Wiley reminded jurors that on their first day of deliberations, they ate a birthday cake and that they probably weren’t discussing too much, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported. The jury shot back in a note, telling the judge they only ate cake that day after they were excused.

When jurors say they’re deadlocked, it’s common for judges — at least the first time — to send them back to keep going. Defense lawyers often object, saying that that amounts to pressure on jurors to reach a verdict.

“They’ve reached a dead end,” one of Hernandez’s lawyers, Harvey Fishbein, told reporters, including CBS2’s Jessica Schneider, outside court. “The fact that they can’t render a verdict, at this point, tells me they cannot do it.”

But prosecutors said they were confident the jury could get past the impasse.

“This is a conscientious and hardworking jury, and we have every faith that, under the judge’s guidance, they can continue to work together to reach a just verdict,” said Joan Vollero, spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Jurors, who heard 10 weeks of testimony, asked earlier Wednesday to have both sides’ summations read back to them, then signaled their deadlock before getting a response. They later reiterated the unusual request and were dismissed early, so the judge could attend to other cases. They will start rehearing the roughly two days of arguments Thursday.

The case baffled authorities for decades — and then Hernandez made a surprise confession in 2012. He told authorities he choked Etan in the basement of the SoHo convenience store where he worked and dumped the body a few blocks away.

Acquaintances and relatives testified that Hernandez had told them in the 1980s he’d killed an unnamed child in New York. But prosecutors had no physical evidence linking Hernandez to the crime. Etan’s body was never found.

Defense attorneys suggested convicted child molester Jose Ramos had committed the crime and said Hernandez was mentally ill.

Etan’s 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 President Ronald Reagan named May 25 National Missing Children’s Day.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 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.)

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