Videotaped confessions of Pedro Hernandez to the strangulation of 6-year-old Etan Patz can't be released to the public before his trial, the Manhattan state judge overseeing hearings on the admissibility of Hernandez's statements ordered Monday.
State Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley, ruling on news organizations' requests, said that while Hernandez's confessions have been played in court, public release could expose potential jurors to a media frenzy of edited excerpts.
"The court can well understand the role the recordings here can play in educating the public about important criminal justice matters, but at this stage of the criminal proceedings this defendant's right to a trial by a fair and impartial jury is of paramount importance," Wiley wrote.
Hernandez, 53, a former bodega worker, made two videotaped confessions in May 2012, to the 1979 kidnapping and killing of Patz after seven hours of unrecorded NYPD questioning. His lawyers say he suffers from mental disorders and was manipulated by detectives into confessing.
Media companies argued the public was entitled to see the confessions to reach its own conclusions about police tactics and the decision to prosecute.
"We understand the importance of protecting the fair trial right of the defendant," said press lawyer David Schulz. "But case after case has shown that pretrial publicity does not prevent a judge from empaneling an impartial jury in a community as diverse as New York."
Wiley has heard evidence for three weeks on whether Hernandez was properly advised of his rights and knowingly and intelligently waived them. Defense lawyers contend the confessions should be suppressed.
Monday, a prosecution forensic psychologist -- disputing a defense expert -- testified that in interviews this year Hernandez demonstrated a good grasp of the meaning of the right to remain silent and was competent to waive it.
The hearings are expected to end Tuesday. If Wiley rules the confessions are admissible, Hernandez's trial is scheduled to begin in January.