The judge presiding over the retrial of Pedro Hernandez for the 1979 disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz said Friday that he expects to begin jury selection on Monday and initially screening 400 prospective jurors next week.
Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Maxwell Wiley said the first step will be to determine what jurors will be able to serve in a trial that could extend into 2017, and then distribute a 26-page questionnaire for those who remain to fill out.
Hernandez, 55, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, confessed in 2012 after police were tipped off by a relative that he might be the culprit. The defense says he imagined his guilt due to a mental disorder, and instead blames longtime suspect Jose Ramos, a convicted child molester.
The jury in Hernandez’s first trial deadlocked 11-1 for conviction on murder and kidnapping charges. He has been in jail since his arrest in 2012.
The questionnaire requests detailed biographical information on prospective jurors, and asks them about exposure to publicity on the case, experience with psychiatric matters, and possible problems with the “nature” of the case.
Wiley also ruled on some last-minute evidentiary issues. He rejected a defense motion to keep out jailhouse phone calls between Hernandez and his wife, denying it despite a recent New York Court of Appeals ruling questioning the routine admission of such calls.
But Wiley did tell prosecutors the defense was entitled to subpoena a recalcitrant witness who was present at the bus stop where Etan was allegedly abducted by Hernandez on the morning of his disappearance, and later told police he never saw Etan at all.
Prosecutors say Hernandez, working at an adjacent bodega, lured the boy from the bus stop into the basement. The defense argues testimony from the man, Harry Nudel, could counter that scenario and suggest Etan was abducted somewhere else by someone else.
The man did not testify at the first trial, and prosecutors said he didn’t want his whereabouts revealed to the defense. “I’m inclined to allow that testimony,” Wiley said.