A Manhattan judge told prospective jurors that the trial of the former bodega worker accused of killing 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979 may last for three months as jury selection began Monday.
State Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley also told the first 100 prospective jurors to appear in court that most of them have probably heard or read of the notorious child-disappearance case, but that doesn't necessarily bar them from serving.
"The publicity surrounding this case is, I would say, unprecedented," Wiley said. "That does not necessarily disqualify you from sitting. As a juror . . . you just have to assure us that no matter what you read you will decide the case based on what you hear in this courtroom."
Patz disappeared on May 25, 1979, in SoHo on his way to catch a school bus. The case went unsolved for more than 30 years. In 2012, Pedro Hernandez, 53, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, who once worked in the SoHo neighborhood, was charged with murder and kidnapping.
Hernandez, who has a low IQ and a history of mental illness, confessed during a lengthy interrogation after relatives tipped police to incriminating statements he had made privately. The defense says he fantasized his role in the crime, and no evidence corroborating his confession has ever surfaced.
Wiley hopes to choose a jury from an initial pool of 300 prospective jurors who have been summoned 100 per day through Wednesday and asked to fill out a written questionnaire covering potential bias, ability to serve on a long trial and other factors.
The prospective jurors will begin returning to court Thursday, when they will either be excused based on their answers or questioned further.