Suspect in Etan Patz murder indicted - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Attorney: Patz case suspect made false confession

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By JENNIFER PELTZ and TOM HAYS | AP

NEW YORK (AP) -- The man charged with killing a 6-year-old boy in 1979 will plead not guilty in a case that catalyzed the missing-children's movement, his lawyer said Thursday, saying the man's confession in the case is false.

After a grand jury indicted him on murder and kidnapping charges, Pedro Hernandez was in court briefly Thursday, when a judge set a Dec. 12 date for him to enter a plea.

Hernandez' May arrest -- a stunning turn in one of the most notorious and vexing cases in New York City history, came after Hernandez confessed to killing 6-year-old Etan Patz, authorities said. But Hernandez' attorney, Harvey Fishbein, says Hernandez is schizophrenic and prone to hallucinations.

"The statements made by client are not reliable," Fishbein said after court Thursday. "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."

While Fishbein has emphasized Hernandez' mental illness, the attorney said the New Jersey man is fit to stand trial. Legally, competence for trial doesn't mean a defendant's mental state can't be part of his defense.

But prosecutors say an exhaustive post-arrest investigation found enough evidence to seek an indictment and proceed to trial.

"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," Erin M. Duggan, spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said Wednesday.

Etan's disappearance is legend: It 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.

Hernandez, 51, had been a teenage stock clerk at a convenience store when Etan disappeared on his way to school on May 25, 1979. He was a married father with no criminal record and living in Maple Shade, N.J. when police approached him based on a tip earlier this year.

Investigators say he told them he lured the boy into the convenience store with the promise of a soda. He allegedly said he led the child to the basement, choked him and left his body in a bag of trash about a block away.

Following the arrest, court hearings for Hernandez were postponed for weeks, with both sides saying they were continuing to investigate. The prosecutor's office said in September it wanted time to keep going "in a measured and fair manner."

Authorities seized a computer and a piece of old-looking children's clothing from Hernandez's home, scoured the basement of the building where he had worked in what was then a grocery store and interviewed his relatives and friends -- but nothing incriminating came of it, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

The person wasn't authorized to discuss findings not yet made public and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Under New York state law, a confession can be enough to convict someone as long as authorities can establish that a crime occurred.

Etan was declared legally dead by his father more than a decade ago so he could sue convicted child molester Jose Ramos in the boy's death.

Ramos was found responsible -- a ruling made because he didn't entirely cooperate with questioning during the lawsuit -- but it's unclear how that finding could now factor into the prosecution of Hernandez.

Ramos, now 69, had been dating the boy's baby sitter in 1979 and was considered a suspect. He was later convicted of molesting two different children and is in a Pennsylvania prison.

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