Pedro Hernandez freely confessed during a prayer meeting to the 1979 kidnapping and killing of Etan Patz because it allowed him to feel forgiveness without having to face legal consequences, a forensic psychiatrist testified Thursday.

"He felt relief. He felt forgiveness . . . he felt he did not have to go to the police," Dr. Michael Welner testified at Hernandez's murder trial in state Supreme Court in Manhattan. Witnesses from a New Jersey religious group testified earlier in the trial that Hernandez told them he had killed a boy.

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Those statements, as well as one videotaped statement Hernandez made to police and one he made to prosecutors, constitute the bulk of the prosecution case against Hernandez. Welner was called as a rebuttal witness by the prosecution to counter a defense contention that Hernandez had a low IQ and suffered from mental impairment that led him to make a false confession.

Etan was last seen on May 25, 1979, as he went to catch a school bus in SoHo. Hernandez told police in 2012 that while he was a teen working at a SoHo bodega, he lured the boy into the store basement and strangled him.