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Judge declares mistrial in Etan Patz murder trial

Stanley Patz, father of Etan Patz, speaks Friday,

Stanley Patz, father of Etan Patz, speaks Friday, May 8, 2015, after a jury failed to come to a unanimous conclusion after 18 days of deliberations in the case of Pedro Hernandez, the New Jersey man accused of killing 6-year-old Etan Patz on May 25, 1979, as the boy headed to school. Pedro Hernandez, 54, confessed to the crime in 2012 in a case that has confounded law enforcement for decades. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Jurors in the Etan Patz murder trial said Friday they were split 11-1 for conviction of ex-bodega worker Pedro Hernandez after a mistrial declared on the 18th day of deliberations left the 6-year-old's notorious 1979 disappearance still officially a mystery.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.'s office signaled it was likely to seek a retrial, as Etan's father, Stanley Patz, who once accused a convicted pedophile named Jose Ramos, broke his public silence and declared in a dramatic statement that he was convinced Hernandez was the culprit, even if the jury wasn't.

"He is a guilty man," said Patz, a commercial photographer from SoHo, citing Hernandez's confessions to police and others. "I don't understand why the jury couldn't come to a verdict, but I am convinced."

Patz said the state Supreme Court trial, which he attended every day, gave his family "closure" by convincing them that police and prosecutors had the right man after 35 years, but the deadlock left unfinished business.

"Our ordeal is not over," he said.

Blond-haired Etan vanished without a trace on his way to the school bus in SoHo on May 25, 1979, and quickly became the most familiar symbol of a nascent missing-child moment, one of the first faces to appear on a milk carton.

Hernandez, 54, was arrested in 2012 on a tip from a relative. In a disputed confession, he told police that as a teen working in a neighborhood bodega, he had lured Etan into the basement and strangled him. He gave no motive.

At the 10-week trial, prosecution witnesses testified that Hernandez had made earlier incriminating statements to a friend, an ex-wife and a prayer group. But the defense said he had a delusion of guilt caused by a mental disorder, and cast suspicion on Ramos, who knew a woman who walked Etan to school during a 1979 bus strike.

In an unusual post-trial news conference attended by nine of the jurors, holdout Adam Sirois said shifting descriptions in Hernandez's multiple confessions -- in one he claimed to have cut up his victim, but not in others -- combined with psychiatric testimony and questions about pressure applied by police left him with doubts.

"His confession was very bizarre," said Sirois, who identified himself as a health care consultant during jury selection. "It got more and more bizarre . . . I felt like mental health issues were a huge part of this case."

Hernandez has been in custody since his arrest. Justice Maxwell Wiley set a June 10 hearing to schedule a retrial at the request of the prosecutor.

Hernandez can seek release on bail, but legal experts say the heavy jury tilt toward conviction may make that an uphill climb.

Defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein said he was "disappointed" the jury did not resolve the case in Hernandez's favor, and that the defense "will be ready" if Vance pursues a retrial.

"There can only be a resolution if the correct man is held responsible," Fishbein said. "We firmly believe Pedro Hernandez is not the right man."

Patz said he started out as a skeptic in 2012, and thanked federal prosecutor Stuart GraBois, who developed a case against Ramos in the late 1980s and was instrumental in getting him jailed in other child molestation cases.

But Patz said that despite Ramos' connection to the bus escort and his statements to GraBois and jailhouse informants that he might have been involved with Etan, he never flat-out confessed and was never definitively established to have once met the boy.

"In the clear light of day, there's nothing there," Patz said, noting that Hernandez confessed again and again -- to friends, to police, to psychiatrists.

"How many times does a person have to confess before you believe him?" Patz wondered.

Hernandez, in his confessions, said he strangled Etan in a matter of seconds in an open bodega basement in broad daylight, but gave no motive. Prosecutors claimed he was intent on molesting the boy, but Patz said he was uneasy expressing an opinion.

"I'm not sure I want to speculate," Etan's father said. "A pretty little boy. I'm not sure I want to go there."

Hernandez eventually became a factory worker and lived on disability with his wife and daughter, who attended deliberations every day, often holding hands. There has been no evidence that Hernandez ever did anything else to anyone.

"When he was 18, he did something terrible," Patz said. "I understand his family may want him back, he may be a good man now. But he needs to pay for what he did."

Jurors in the majority shared Patz's assessment, citing Hernandez's multiple confessions and details they felt couldn't have been made up, like his dead-on description of an alley where he dumped the body that matched a SoHo location he later showed cops.

"The quality and quantity of confessions over time was what swayed me," said consultant Douglas Hitchner, who was paired in the minority with Sirois almost to the end.

They said they were ultimately unconvinced by psychiatric claims that he may have fantasized the crime. Juror Edwin Thompson, a real estate agent, called them "Johnny come lately" diagnoses that arose long after 1979.

Jennifer O'Connor, an event planner, said symptoms like depression and cocaine abuse made her think Hernandez felt powerful guilt and "was trying to suppress remembering it, suppress remembering it, holding it deep down."

The jurors, even Sirois, said they backed a retrial.

"Pedro Hernandez, you know what you did!" shouted forewoman Aliaa Dahhan as she left the news conference.

With Maria Alvarez


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