Former bodega worker Pedro Hernandez was indicted yesterday in the abduction and murder of Etan Patz, the 6-year-old boy whose disappearance on his way to school in 1979 has haunted investigators for three decades.
The indictment comes six months after Hernandez, a husband and father from Maple Grove, N.J., confessed to snatching and killing Patz. But police have struggled to find corroborating evidence, and Hernandez's family has attributed the confession to a history of mental disorders. Both factors will make a trial challenging, experts say.
District Attorney Cyrus Vance, under pressure to return an indictment ever since NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly fingered Hernandez as the culprit at a May news conference, said the kidnapping and second-degree murder charges were born of "months of factual investigation and legal analysis."
"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 Vance spokeswoman Erin Duggan. "This is a case that we believe should be presented to a jury at trial."
Hernandez, 51, worked at a bodega in the Soho neighborhood where Patz disappeared on May 25, 1979. The NYPD for years focused on other suspects, but during a surge in publicity about the case this spring associates tipped police that Hernandez had admitted involvement to both relatives and confidantes over the years.
Questioned by investigators, he allegedly said that he lured the boy into a basement by offering him a soda, killed him and threw the body away in the garbage. No body has ever been found. Police have not said that Hernandez gave any motive for the purported killing, and there is no known evidence of him assaulting other children.
Hernandez lawyer Harvey Fishbein said he understood that police were not able to develop corroboration of Hernandez's confession with physical evidence. He predicted a trial would focus on his client's mental state. The defense has retained two "world renowned" experts on mental disorders.
"Nothing that occurs in the course of this trial will answer what actually happened to Etan Patz," Fishbein said. "The indictment is based solely on statements allegedly made by my client, who has, in the past, been repeatedly diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia."
Hernandez, he said, has "schizotypal personality disorder, which is characterized by, among other things, unusual perceptual experiences, commonly referred to as hallucinations." Fishbein also said his client has "an IQ in the borderline-to-mild mental retardation range."
Stan Patz, the boy's father, said the family had no comment.
Hernandez's wife was "appalled" by Vance's decision to go forward with the case, her lawyer said.
"She firmly believes that any statements were the result of his long-standing hallucinations and delusions," said the lawyer, Robert Gottlieb. "In her view there is no way his statements can possibly be viewed as reliable."
But NYPD boss Kelly, in his May news conference, told reporters that he thought the confession was both powerful and credible on its own. "He was remorseful, and I think the detectives thought it was a feeling of relief on his part," Kelly said.
Hernandez' first court appearance on the indictment is scheduled for todayThursday in Manhattan Supreme Court.With Maria Alvarez