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Etan Patz jury: ‘Deliberations were difficult’ but divisions overcome

Juror Cateryn Kiernan (C) speaks during a press

Juror Cateryn Kiernan (C) speaks during a press conference after the verdict in the trial of Pedro Hernandez for the murder of Etan Patz, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Divisions, but this time no deadlock.

Jurors in the retrial of Pedro Hernandez for the 1979 kidnap-murder of Etan Patz said Tuesday they disagreed about multiple issues over nine days of talks, but unlike the 2015 trial that ended with the panel hung 11-1, they used patience, analysis and mutual respect to reach unanimity.

“There had to have been a division for us to take that long,” said juror Cateryn Kiernan, one of nine members of the panel that spoke to reporters afterward. “We approached it logically and compassionately. We were very nervous about making the wrong call.”

“The deliberations were difficult,” said foreman Thomas Hoscheid, “but we had constructive conversations based in logic that were analytical and creative and adaptive and compassionate, and ultimately kind of heartbreaking.”

Jurors — who included a construction lawyer, an MBA, a software architect, a tax auditor and a biology professor — declined to say how deep their divisions were at various points.

“That stays in Las Vegas,” juror Michael Castellon joked.

But they described painstaking repeat viewings of Hernandez’s videotaped confessions to police — watching for the “hundredth time” Tuesday morning, one juror said. They also reviewed expert testimony on the defense claim that he suffered from a delusion, and defense efforts to blame longtime suspect Jose Ramos, a convicted child molester.

Castellon said they concluded that Ramos, who had a relationship with a woman who had walked Etan home from school, was “spaghetti on the wall” thrown by the defense to confuse things, and that he had played Mary Galligan, a renowned FBI agent who testified that she thought Ramos was guilty, by giving her titillating hints that he might have done it.

“Ultimately we decided that she was Clarisse and Jose was Hannibal Lecter and he fed her a line to haunt her for the next 20, 30 years of her life, but he didn’t do it,” Castellon said.

On Ramos’ mental state, Castellon said, jurors concluded that he did suffer from schizotypal personality disorder, a mild form of schizophrenia, but felt that it only produced perceptual distortions — Hernandez claimed to have visions of a “lady in white,” for example — but not a full-fledged delusion of having killed Etan.

“He could tell right from wrong,” Castellon said of Ramos. “He could tell fantasy from reality.”

Jurors also said they weren’t stymied by glitches in Hernandez’s confession. They said police never found a blue bag Hernandez said he left in the bodega basement where he killed Etan because they probably never searched the area in 1979, and said they never really figured out why Etan left home wearing a hat but Hernandez said he was hatless.

The panel convicted Hernandez of killing Etan in the course of a kidnapping but acquitted him of intentional murder.

Juror Roy Brown said there was a “gray area” and they never really were convinced of the prosecution’s claim that Hernandez’s motive was sexual assault. “We didn’t find evidence of that,” he said.

Kiernan said there was no one issue that divided jurors, but said everyone had a different “hangup” over the course of the deliberations.

“It’s not a black and white case,” she said. “The hardest thing with the case for me was deciding if something is reasonable. To have a doubt is one thing. To define it as reasonable is something very different.”

With Maria Alvarez

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