Pedro Hernandez Found Guilty in 1979 Kidnapping and Killing 6-Year-Old Etan Patz

Pedro Hernandez, shown in court in 2012, confessed to luring the 6-year-old Etan Patz into the basement of a bodega and attacking him in 1979. (Pool photo by Louis Lanzano)

Pedro Hernandez, a former bodega stock clerk who confessed to luring 6-year-old Etan Patz into a basement and attacking him, was found guilty on Tuesday of murder and kidnapping, a long-awaited step toward closure in a case that bedeviled investigators for decades and changed forever the way parents watched over their children.

A Manhattan jury convicted Mr. Hernandez on the ninth day of deliberations after the second of two lengthy trials that brought renewed attention to Etan’s disappearance on May 25, 1979, as he walked to his school bus stop alone in SoHo for the first time.

The mystery of what happened to Etan shook New York and the nation, with photographs of the smiling, sandy-haired boy ubiquitous on milk cartons, “missing” posters, newspaper front pages and television newscasts. The alarm caused by the abduction reverberated across America, evoking the worst fears of parents and helping to change the way the authorities tracked missing children.

The vote to convict came after jurors returned to court Tuesday following a three-day weekend and watched — “for the 100th time,” one juror said — Mr. Hernandez’s recorded confessions. Around noon, the panel sent a note to the judge saying it had reached a verdict. Though jurors declined to discuss how their views had evolved while deliberating, they acknowledged overcoming significant divisions.

“Deliberations were difficult,” said Tommy Hoscheid, the jury foreman, “but I think we had constructive conversations based in logic that were analytical and creative and adaptive and compassionate, and ultimately, kind of heartbreaking.”

Years of fruitless searches and examinations of suspects had failed to yield answers for Etan’s parents, Stanley and Julie Patz, who still live in the Prince Street loft that was their home when their son vanished from what was then a semi-industrial area.

The authorities turned their attention to Mr. Hernandez, who lived in a small New Jersey town near Philadelphia, after his brother-in-law called detectives in 2012 to share his suspicion that he could be responsible.

For Stanley Patz, the verdict meant a vigil of almost 38 years was close to an end.

Etan’s parents, Stanley and Julie Patz, in 1980. (John Sotomayor/The New York Times)

“The Patz family has waited a long time, but we finally found some measure of justice for our wonderful little boy Etan,” said Mr. Patz, who sat through every day of the trial, carrying his own cushion to use on the courtroom’s hard wooden benches. He said that he had called his wife, who was not at the courthouse, and that she had cried at the news.

“I’m really grateful — I’m really grateful — this jury finally came back with what I’ve known for a long time,” he added, “that this man, Pedro Hernandez, is guilty of doing something really terrible so many years ago.”

The outcome was a victory for the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who chose to prosecute Mr. Hernandez a second time after the earlier mistrial. That proceeding ended in 2015 after 18 days of deliberations when a lone juror declined to convict. He said he had been persuaded by defense arguments that Mr. Hernandez had mental health problems that called his admissions into question and that another suspect could have been the killer.

“I’m relieved, and I’m relieved because I think it’s the right result,” Mr. Vance said in an interview. “I think it can bring all of us together in a moment of closure and healing,” he added, describing Etan’s disappearance as “something that has stayed with us as a city and as a community of New Yorkers.”

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SOURCE: NY Times, Rick Rojas

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