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Etan Patz jury deadlocks, will hear read back of closing arguments

Pedro Hernandez, right, appears in Manhattan criminal court

Pedro Hernandez, right, appears in Manhattan criminal court with his attorney Harvey Fishbein, in New York in 2012. Credit: AP / Louis Lanzano, Pool, File

Weary-looking jurors in the Etan Patz murder trial reported Wednesday they could not reach a verdict on accused ex-bodega stock boy Pedro Hernandez, raising the specter that the 35-year-old mystery of the boy's disappearance may remain officially unsolved.

State Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley in Manhattan refused to declare an immediate mistrial after the deadlock was disclosed, and jurors -- in their 11th day of deliberations -- agreed to his suggestion that it rehear summations to try to end the standoff.

"I don't think you've considered this case long enough to conclude you cannot reach a verdict," Wiley said. "We have no reason to believe another jury could resolve this case. I don't think we could get a jury that is fairer, more intelligent or more hardworking."

Six-year-old Etan vanished on his way to a school bus in SoHo in 1979. Police received a tip in 2012 about Hernandez, 54, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, who said in a now-disputed confession that as a teen working in a SoHo grocery, he strangled the boy in the basement. Etan's body was never found.

During a 10-week trial, prosecutors focused on incriminating statements Hernandez made in private settings three times before confessing to police. The defense claimed he fantasized the crime due to a mental disorder, and tried to blame a convicted pedophile who had long been suspected by law enforcement.

During deliberations, jurors asked to rehear testimony from each segment of the trial.

Wednesday morning, they asked to hear closing arguments, but before Wiley could respond, he received a note at 12:30 p.m. saying "we are unable to reach a unanimous decision."

Wiley told them to keep trying and urged them to listen to the summations. After lunch, the jurors agreed.

The judge, busy with other cases, told them to return Thursday for the reading, which is expected to take two days.

A mistrial would be a disappointment for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who forged ahead with the case despite questions about the lack of corroboration of Hernandez's 2012 confession and his mental competence.

Grim-faced prosecutors did not comment. But Vance spokeswoman Joan Vollero said in a statement: "This is a conscientious and hardworking jury and we have every faith that, under the judge's guidance, they can continue to work together to reach a just verdict."

Wiley's effort to nudge the jury -- known as an Allen charge -- was not unusual, but defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein, after huddling with Hernandez's wife and daughter, said 10 days was enough, and the judge risked getting jurors to override their consciences.

"This is an intelligent, capable jury," he told reporters. "It's not like they're taking their responsibility lightly. They've reached a dead end. They can't do it. To try to coerce them into it after 10 days is wrong."

Vance's office has not signaled whether it would retry the case in the even of a mistrial.

The Patz family, which attended the trial, was not present Wednesday.

Etan's mother and father have never said whether they think Hernandez is guilty, or whether they would urge a retrial.

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