Is Case Against Alleged Etan Patz Killer As Un-Winnable As It Seems?


The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office yesterday announced that a grand jury has returned an indictment charging 51-year-old Pedro Hernandez with the 1979 murder of 6-year-old Etan Patz.

Authorities won’t say much about the case, but it appears to be based on little more than Hernandez’s confession to police, and the testimony of family and clergy members who say Hernandez confessed to them, too.

As far as physical evidence goes, however, there doesn’t appear to be much — if any.

Adding to prosecutors’ problems is the fact that Hernandez has a history of mental illness — he’s been hospitalized for bipolar disorder, and experiences audio and visual hallucinations.

Initially, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office reportedly felt the NYPD didn’t provide them with enough evidence to get a conviction — it was reported that NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly pressured District Attorney Cy Vance to charge Hernandez, despite Vance’s request for more evidence.

Manhattan District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Erin Duggan says any mental illness Hernandez may suffer from was not a factor in his confession.

“This indictment is the outcome of a lengthy and deliberative process, involving months of factual investigation and
legal analysis. We believe the evidence that Mr. Hernandez killed Etan Patz to be credible and persuasive, and that his statements are not the product of any mental illness,” Manhattan District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Erin Duggan says. “The grand jury has found sufficient evidence to charge the defendant and this is a case that we believe should be presented to a jury at trial.”

Hernandez’s attorney, Harvey Fishbein, however, bashed the state’s case against his client in a statement issued yesterday.

“Nothing that occurs in the course of this trial will answer what actually happened to Etan Patz,” Fishbein says.

“The indictment is based solely on statements allegedly made by my client, who has, in the past, been repeatedly diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, and who has, over the last six months, been found to suffer from schizotypal personality disorder, which is characterized by, among other things, unusual perceptual experiences, commonly referred to as hallucinations,” the lawyer said.

“Partly as a result of that disorder, my client has an IQ in the borderline-to-mild mental retardation range. The statements alleged by the People are not supported by any evidence whatsoever, despite extraordinary investigative efforts by the police back then and now,” he says.

That said, Hernandez was in the area when Patz disappeared while walking to the bus stop in his SoHo neighborhood in 1979. And authorities say that he knows things about the crime that only the killer would know. Not to mention, he confessed.

But circumstantial evidence, and the confession of a mentally ill man, probably isn’t enough to get a conviction at trial. It is, however, enough to get an indictment from a grand jury, where the burden of proof is lower than it would be at trial.

In other words, the D.A.’s Office better have more than just a confession, or Hernandez likely will walk — and one of New York City’s biggest mysteries will go on.