The prosecutor who last year led the first effort to convict Pedro Hernandez of murdering Etan Patz that ended with a hung jury will be allowed to participate in his retrial this year, a Supreme Court judge in Manhattan ruled on Tuesday.
The defense wanted prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, who unsuccessfully ran for Staten Island District Attorney after the first trial, barred from the retrial because of campaign statements expressing her personal belief in Hernandez’s guilt, a no-no for prosecutors, and highlighting her close ties to Etan’s family.
Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley said in his decision that Illuzzi-Orbon’s statements were unlikely to inflame the public or improperly prejudice jurors at Hernandez’s retrial.
“Ms. Illuzzi’s statements, made many months ago to local (and, in some cases, Staten Island-only) outlets, are unlikely to be remembered or considered significant by prospective New York County jurors,” Wiley wrote in his 2-page decision.
Illuzzi-Orbon was publicly endorsed by Stan Patz, Etan’s father. She rejoined the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office after her failed bid on Staten Island. She was replaced as lead prosecutor in the Patz case by Joel Seidemann, but is expected to help him at trial.
Six-year-old Etan Patz disappeared on his way to school in SoHo in 1979. Hernandez, 55, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, a former bodega worker in the neighborhood, was charged in 2012 based on a confession after police received a tip.
The defense contends that Hernandez suffers from mental problems, and his confession was a delusion. The jury in last year’s trial split 11-1 for conviction, leaving the case unresolved.
Jury selection for the retrial is scheduled to begin next month.