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Jurors in Etan Patz trial explain reasoning behind stalemate

Juror number 11, Adam Sirois, speaks about being

Juror number 11, Adam Sirois, speaks about being the lone holdoutagainst conviction after a mistrial was declared in the case against Pedro Hernandez Friday, May 8, 2015. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Early in the Etan Patz murder trial, jurors saw defendant Pedro Hernandez in his 2012 confession describe how he took the body of the boy he had strangled in 1979 to a sunken alley about 11/2 blocks away from the bodega basement where he said the killing occurred.

Then, jurors saw a video of Hernandez, hours later, walking police through SoHo, heading without hesitation to an alley at 115 Thompson St. that fit the description to a tee. Confused by a gate, he chose the alley next door -- but the owner later testified he added the gate after 1979.

In the wake of the trial's dramatic conclusion Friday night with an 11-1 stalemate, several jurors from the majority cited that walk as the biggest key in the 10-week trial, allowing prosecutors to corroborate the confession, despite the lack of a body and Hernandez's mental problems.

"The fact that he identified there wasn't a door at 115 Thompson in 1979, how he approached that alley with the steps and said there was no door there," said juror Christopher Giliberti, a management consultant, "I mean there was just no way to tenably explain that really."

"He knew facts that only he could know -- the SoHo walk-through, for example," said consultant Gregory Hitchener, another juror.

With Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr.'s office immediately pledging a retrial, attention in the aftermath of the verdict quickly focused on lone holdout Adam Sirois, whose hesitation during 18 days of deliberations ultimately prevented a verdict.

Sirois said he was troubled by a series of factors -- the failure of police to videotape much of their questioning of Hernandez, testimony about his mental problems, bizarre elements in some of his descriptions of the crime such as claiming to have cut up Etan on one occasion, and suspicion of Jose Ramos, the convicted pedophile linked to a woman who walked Etan to school.

"I could not get beyond reasonable doubt," Sirois said.

But the next Patz trial may be a steeper climb for the defense than for prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, based on the 11-1 split and comments from majority jurors about how they ultimately became comfortable with a 35-year-old case and dispatched with defense arguments.

One key element in the defense case, for example, was what it claimed were unlikely elements in Hernandez's confession. He said he threw a bag Etan had behind a refrigerator in the basement but police searches in 1979 never found it.

"The bag was one of the most perplexing elements," said juror Jennifer O'Connor. "But when I think back to 1979, it's not the days of CSU, advanced technology. Things were done differently. I was able to find it plausible that they didn't find the bag."

Weeks of testimony were spent on incriminating statements Ramos once made to a prosecutor and a jailhouse snitch. But majority jurors said no witness ever put Ramos with Etan, while Hernandez worked at a bodega next to the bus stop where Etan was going when he vanished.

"He was there that morning," said juror Douglas Hitchener. "Etan Patz was headed there that morning."

And psychiatric testimony offered to suggest Hernandez's confession might have been a delusion struck some jurors as almost incriminating.

"It seemed to be a profile of someone who did something heinous and was trying to suppress it, repress it, bury it deep down," said O'Connor.

Defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein Sunday declined to give away strategic tips on how he might try the case differently next time, but conceded that with 11 jurors discussing publicly why they thought Hernandez was guilty, it would be difficult to get an impartial jury.

"But on the other hand, there has also been extensive publicity about the one holdout," Fishbein said, "and he has clearly, concisely and intelligently explained his views."

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