The NYPD detective whose questioning of suspect Pedro Hernandez led him to confess to the 1979 killing of Etan Patz testified Monday that he empathized with abuse Hernandez suffered as a child and told him "everyone needed to know the truth."
Nineteen-year veteran Det. James Lamendola, who met alone with Hernandez after two colleagues had spent five hours with the suspect, said the New Jersey man opened up after describing beatings he got from his father with a horsewhip.
"I started to talk with him about the cyclical patterns of abuse, when a child is abused he often abuses others," said Lamendola. "He became extremely emotional. He began sobbing, holding his stomach and complaining of stomach pains . . . and laying down on the floor in a fetal position."
Six-year-old Etan Patz's notorious disappearance while walking to a school bus in SoHo was unsolved until Hernandez, a former bodega worker in the neighborhood, confessed in 2012 after a relative tipped off police that he might have been involved. He has been charged with murder and kidnapping, and his trial is set for January.
Lamendola appeared in the third week of hearings on whether the confession should be admitted at trial. Hernandez, 53, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, is a schizophrenic with a low IQ. His lawyer says he fantasized the crime, and was manipulated into waiving his rights.
Hernandez was interviewed for seven hours before a recorder was turned on and he was advised of his rights.
"I can't begin to tell you how proud I am of you," Lamendola told Hernandez at the start of his taped confession. " . . . That's the strength of the Lord."
In Monday's's testimony, however, the burly 6-foot, 3-inch detective denied using religion to influence Hernandez during the unrecorded questioning that led up to that remark. He said he asked Hernandez at one point if he was a religious man, but that was it.
Lamendola also testified that no special strategy went into his approach. He took over questioning when the first two detectives needed a lunch break, he said, and as Hernandez became emotional, he urged him to do the right thing.
"I told him it wasn't his fault," Lamendola said. "I told him all those who were involved needed to know the truth."