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Pedro Hernandez Convicted Of Killing Etan Patz, Boy Missing Since 1979

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz changed the way we search for missing children, but for nearly four decades, his family could not find closure.

But on Tuesday, Etan’s family finally heard the news they have been waiting for. His accused kidnapper – Pedro Hernandez, was found guilty of murder.

As CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported, Hernandez showed no reaction as jurors delivered their verdict Tuesday. The jurors deliberated for nine days.

Another jury deliberated for 18 days before deadlocking in 2015.

Watch: Stan Patz speaks out after the verdict.

Some of the jurors from the first trial attended the second one, and several of them wept Tuesday as the verdict was read. Etan’s father, Stanley Patz, had watery eyes and a visible sense of relief on his face.

Speaking afterwards, Etan’s father, Stan Patz, said “It’s about time.”

“The Patz family has waited a long time but we finally have found some measure of justice for our wonderful little boy Etan,” Stan Patz said. “I’m really grateful, really grateful that this jury finally came back with what I have known for a long time: That this man, Pedro Hernandez, is guilty of doing something really terrible so many years ago.”

“I needed to know what happened to my son, and this great prosecution team finally proved it,” he said.

Watch: Jurors speak out after the verdict.

The current jury’s foreman, Thomas S. Hoscheid, said deliberations had been difficult, but “we had constructive conversations, based in logic, that were “analytical and creative, and adaptive and compassionate and ultimately, kind of heartbreaking,” he said.

“We think that he could tell right from wrong; he could tell fantasy from reality,” added juror Michael Castellon.

“We were very nervous about making the wrong call,” juror Cateryn Kiernan said.

In a statement, District Attorney Cy Vance said Etan’s case “will no longer be remembered as one of the city’s oldest and most painful unsolved crimes.”

“The disappearance of Etan Patz haunted families in New York and across the country for nearly four decades,” Vance said. “Etan’s legacy will endure through his family’s long history of advocacy on behalf of missing children. However, it is my hope that today’s verdict provides the Patz family with the closure they so desperately deserve.”

On May 25, 1979, Etan – who would now be 44 – went off to school and never returned. His body was never found.

The day Etan vanished was the very first day he was allowed to walk by himself to the bus stop, CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported.

“We think an adult could have convinced him to come with him,” Stanley Patz said back at the time.

It is a parent’s worst nightmare, and it haunted the Patz family for many decades. Etan was one of the first missing children whose face appeared on milk cartons.

The anniversary of his disappearance has been designated National Missing Children’s Day.

In 2012, there was a break in the case. A relative of Hernandez called police and said Hernandez had been telling multiple people he had killed a child in New York.

Hernandez then told police the boy was Etan. He confessed to luring the boy into a bodega in SoHo where he worked with the promise of a soda, and then killing Etan.

“When he went by me, I grabbed him by the neck and I started to choke him,” Hernandez said in a videotaped confession on May 24, 2012.

Hernandez’s attorneys had argued that he was mentally ill and falsely confessed to numerous people over the years.

Hernandez’s lead lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, said he would appeal.

“In the end, we don’t believe this will resolve the story of what happened to Etan back in 1979,” Fishbein said.

Defense lawyers and doctors portrayed Hernandez as a man with psychological problems and intellectual limitations that made him struggle to tell reality from fantasy and made him susceptible to confessing falsely after more than six hours of questioning before recording began.

His daughter testified that he talked about seeing visions of angels and demons and once watered a dead tree branch, believing it would grow.

“Pedro Hernandez is an odd, limited and vulnerable man,” defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein said in his closing argument. “Pedro Hernandez is an innocent man.”

Prosecutors have suggested Hernandez faked or exaggerated his symptoms.

Defense lawyers also pointed to a different man who was long the prime suspect. Jose Ramos, a convicted Pennsylvania child molester, made incriminating remarks about Etan’s case in the 1990s and who had dated a woman acquainted with the Patzes.

He was never charged and denied killing Etan.

Briefly in 2012, suspicion also fell on local handyman Othniel Miller.

That year, investigators dug up a SoHo basement to search for clues. News coverage was what prompted a Hernandez relative to contact police.

The Patz family never doubted that it was Hernandez who was responsible – enduring two long trials.

“They had the courage to say we will go through this again, and we will be there while you reinvestigate this case,” said Chief Assistant District Attorney Karen Friedman Agnifilo.

Hernandez’s wife and daughter were not in court Tuesday. His defense attorney said his wife was crying on the phone.

At her home in South Jersey, Hernandez’s wife, Rosemary, refused to comment late Tuesday.

Meanwhile, neighbors were reacting to the verdict Monday in a SoHo much different than the one where Etan disappeared.

“It was a completely different neighborhood; I mean, it was considered a dangerous neighborhood back in those days, and there was just sort of like renegade artists living down here,” said Cheryl Klauss.

As CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported, Klauss moved to SoHo right after Etan disappeared, and raised her child in the area. And every day, she could see reminders of the little boy who vanished.

“You saw the posters in the neighborhood, and you saw that face and you know, you could imagine how awful it is for that family not knowing, you know, what happened to their son,” Klauss said.

Michael Schmutzer moved to the area in 1982 and raised five children. He said there were posters around shops in the area about the search for Etan at the time.

“It was a different neighborhood,” Schmutzer said. “On the weekends, you walked down the street, you looked over your shoulder to make sure nobody was too close to you.”

When Etan walked off to school and disappeared forever, it triggered a new awareness of child abduction.

“I think it was a national freak-out, and for good reason, and I don’t think this case – the fact that this man was convicted, brings any kind of closure to it,” said Andrew Nash of the West Village.

SoHo is now is populated by stores for the rich and trendy. But in 1979, it was not a place where the tourists came calling.

And after Etan, parents never felt safe.

“After Etan, there was a world in which something like this could happen to your child, and once that idea crept into your head, you couldn’t banish it,” said author Lisa Cohen.

Cohen said Etan’s disappearance started a national movement that changed both policing and parenting.

“It’s a completely different world, and in some places, it’s a different world because of Etan Patz,” Cohen said. “Kids don’t play outside. Parents keep an eagle eye on them.”

Cohen wrote the 2009 book “After Etan: The Missing Child Case That Held America Captive.”

“When a story doesn’t end, people keep waiting for something to end and it never leaves your consciousness,” she said. “When other crime stories get resolved, people move on, and there are always new chapters to this story.”

But now after all these years, there is a conviction in the courtroom. But the question lingers as to whether there can ever really be closure for a family and a country.

“I cannot imagine how you feel if you lose your child,” Schumtzer said. “I have five children, and I just cannot imagine ever closure.”

Sentencing for Hernandez is Tuesday, Feb. 28. He faces 25 years to life.

(TM and © Copyright 2017 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2017 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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