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Prosecution shows video of confession during closing of Etan Patz case

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

A prosecutor in the Etan Patz murder trial mocked claims that defendant Pedro Hernandez falsely confessed due to hallucination by replaying for jurors during summation Tuesday a video of Hernandez showing police how he strangled the boy.

"He's actually getting up and showing physically what happened," prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said incredulously as the jury watched Hernandez stand during his interrogation and pretend to squeeze the 6-year-old's neck. "Does that sound like a dream? Come on!"

With jury deliberations expected to begin on Wednesday, the prosecutor also lashed out at defense efforts to portray convicted pedophile Jose Ramos as the real culprit, saying it was all hype driven by an overzealous federal prosecutor fixated on his link to a woman who walked Etan to school and a lying jailhouse informant.

"The Ramos theory was just never it," said Illuzzi-Orbon, complaining that her office had been unfairly criticized for never charging Ramos. "It wasn't it in the 1980s. It wasn't it in the '90s. . . . It just was never it. Basic, basic, basic facts were just wrong."

Etan vanished on his way to a bus stop in SoHo on May 25, 1979. Hernandez, 54, told police in a now-disputed 2012 confession that as a teen working in a local bodega he lured the boy into the basement and choked him to death.

The confession is the only direct evidence of guilt. During the 10-week Manhattan Supreme Court trial, the defense said police manipulated Hernandez, who suffered from a mental disorder that caused him to fantasize the crime.

But Illuzzi-Orbon said witnesses who knew Hernandez at various stages of his life -- everyone except his daughter and defense experts -- thought he behaved normally.

"Where is the mental illness? Where is it?" she said. "Mentally disturbed, confusing fantasy with reality? It's just not here."

She argued that efforts to blame police collapsed because Hernandez had made incriminating statements about killing someone years earlier -- in a prayer group, and to his ex-wife and close friend -- and continued to admit guilt to psychiatrists after arrest.

"He has a before and after problem," she said. "The police weren't there before, and they weren't there afterward."

In his confession, Hernandez said he put Etan's body in a box, carried it 1 1/2 blocks on his shoulder and dumped it in an alley. The defense called that unlikely, but Illuzzi-Orbon resisted defense efforts to give the jury a box of similar weight to judge for itself.

She succeeded, but in her closing she offered an alternative, showing a picture of the diminutive Etan and telling jurors: "Look at this little peanut. Any one of us could have carried him a country mile."

Based on incriminating statements Ramos made to a federal prosecutor and, allegedly, a jail informant, the defense theory was he knew Etan through the school chaperone and intercepted him on the way to his bus.

But the prosecutor told jurors there was no independent evidence Ramos ever met Etan. Hernandez, she argued, was waiting in the bodega next to Etan's bus stop -- a man who had been beaten by his own father as a child, who had seen Etan before, and was intent, despite his later denials to police, on a sexual encounter.

"He was sullen, observant, abused and abusive again himself, and day after day he saw this beautiful little boy alone," she said. "One day he acted on an impulse and did something terrible."

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