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Judge: Spring trial likely in 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. (Nov. 15, 2012) Credit: AP

The man who confessed last year to killing 6-year-old Etan Patz 33 years ago in a case that became a national flashpoint won't face prosecution until at least the spring, a State Supreme Court judge in Manhattan said Wednesday.

Pedro Hernandez, 52, returned to court Wednesday after Judge Maxwell Wiley earlier this year ruled there was sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.

After the procedural hearing, at which Hernandez made no statement, defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein reiterated that his client suffers from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and that his police confession shows no evidence that he committed the crime.

"This is not a reliable confession," Fishbein said after leaving court.

"We are not admitting in any sense that he committed this crime. He did not do it," he said.

Etan disappeared May 25, 1979, while walking alone to a school bus stop for the first time. His abduction launched a nationwide search and his photo was among the first missing children printed on milk cartons, inspiring a national missing children movement. National Missing Children's Day is the date he disappeared.

In court, Fishbein asked Wiley for a trial date. He said the discovery phase in preparation for the trial was taking too long, which posed an unfair detention to Hernandez, who was arrested last year after being interrogated by police.

"We need a trial date as soon as possible," Fishbein said. He argued the prosecution gathered about 10,000 pages of records and reports in the last six months. "This delay has nothing to do with my client," he said.

Wiley set the next court date for October, saying, "Let's get discovery done." The judge said he hopes to begin pretrial hearings in January followed by a trial in the spring.

In 1979, Hernandez worked at a bodega near where Patz was last seen. Police said Hernandez confessed to killing the little boy and disposing his body.

Relatives of Hernandez, of Maple Shade, N.J., also disclosed that he spoke about being involved in the case.

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