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Deadlocked jurors attend retrial hearing for Pedro Hernandez, accused killer of Etan Patz

Members of the hung jury that voted for

Members of the hung jury that voted for the conviction of Pedro Hernandez arrive at State Supreme Court in Manhattan on June 10, 2015, for a hearing on the retrial of Pedro Hernandez. Credit: Charles Eckert

Seven jurors from the panel that deadlocked last month at the Etan Patz murder trial over the guilt of Pedro Hernandez unexpectedly showed up Wednesday at a hearing to schedule a retrial and then renewed their contentious jury room debate afterward.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley told lawyers in the 36-year-old case that he wanted jury selection to begin in December or January. His ruling was overshadowed by the presence of those on the previous panel, who said they hadn't put the case behind them.

"I still feel invested," said health consultant Adam Sirois, the holdout on a jury that tilted 11-1 for conviction. He sat alone in the back row of the courtroom. "It was a very emotional case, very intense for all of us."

Sirois said he felt no "ill will" toward the 11 he debated during 18 days of deliberations, The six in the majority and two alternates sat together in court and didn't seem to share his feelings.

"Enough is enough," said forewoman Aliaa Dahhan. "It's been 36 years. Eleven voted guilty. Pedro Hernandez has to answer for what he did."

Juror Jennifer O'Connor said Sirois "had the opportunity to let reason win out and he didn't."

Six-year-old Etan vanished on his way to catch a school bus in SoHo in 1979. Hernandez, 54, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, was questioned in 2012 based on a tip, and said in a now-disputed confession that as a teen working in a neighborhood bodega he had strangled the boy in the basement.

But there was no body, and no forensic evidence linking Hernandez to a crime. The defense contended during the four-month trial that the confession was a delusion caused by a mental disorder, and tried to implicate a convicted child molester long suspected of abducting Etan.

Picking an impartial jury for a retrial is expected to be a challenge. The case got massive coverage, as did the declaration of Etan's father afterward that Hernandez was guilty. Jurors have spoken out frequently, and the majority even attended a memorial for Etan on the anniversary of his disappearance.

Defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein complained to Wiley that former lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, who resigned to run for district attorney on Staten Island, is making the problem worse with declarations of Hernandez's guilt on the campaign trail, which he said will pollute potential jurors through November.

"I would like this to stop," said Fishbein.

Wiley said he wasn't sure he had the power to silence Illuzzi-Orbon. Her replacement, prosecutor Joel Seidemann, said he didn't think the Manhattan district attorney could either. A campaign spokesman for Illuzzi-Orbon did not comment.

All the jurors said they support a retrial -- although Sirois cautioned, "It will be very hard to have a fair trial in this city" -- but they also said time has only deepened their convictions about the case.

Sirois, who has quit his job, said he has gotten "tremendous support" from the public, and remains mistrustful of the videotaped confession -- the centerpiece of the prosecution case. "It seemed not genuine," he said. "It seemed rehearsed."

But those in the majority said they came to court because they remain disturbed that Hernandez -- who had made incriminating statements privately to friends and relatives for years -- had escaped justice because of the deadlock.

"We are very frustrated and disheartened," O'Connor said. "That's why we're here, supporting the new DA and his team."

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