Judge sees confession tape in ’79 missing boy case
NEW YORK (AP) — After the videotape clicks on, the 53-year-old calmly tells investigators how he choked 6-year-old Etan Patz in the basement of a Manhattan convenience store on May 25, 1979. He describes putting the boy, who was still alive, into a plastic bag, then putting the bag inside a box and dumping it nearby.
“I was nervous; my legs were jumping,” Pedro Hernandez said. “I wanted to let go, but I just couldn’t let go. I felt like something just took over me. I don’t know what to say. Something just took over me, and I was just choking him.”
The tape was played at a hearing Monday to determine whether or not the confession can be used as evidence at Hernandez’ murder trial — not whether the statements are true. It was the first time the public could hear Hernandez, who has pleaded not guilty, talk in his own words about the notorious case that plagued police for decades.
Judge Maxwell Wiley must decide whether Hernandez was properly advised of his rights and is mentally capable of understanding them.
Etan became one of the first missing children to be pictured on a milk carton, and the day he disappeared, May 25, became National Missing Children’s Day. His body has never been found.
His parents were in court Monday, the first time they have appeared publicly since Hernandez was arrested two years ago. The father, Stan, watched stoically while the boy’s mother, Julie, left before the tape began.
On the video, Hernandez is dressed in a brown jacket, white T-shirt and jeans, and sits at an empty desk save for a can of Pepsi. He talks about his family and his medical history — he is HIV-positive, suffers back problems and is bipolar.
He explains how he killed the child but doesn’t remember what the boy was wearing, that Etan had a cap on when he vanished, or that the weather was bad that day. He says he tossed the boy’s book bag behind a freezer; no bag was ever found. He doesn’t remember the boy saying anything, and nothing in particular caught his attention that made him choose the boy, he says.
“I just approached to him or I asked him, you want a soda? I said come with me,” he said. “He didn’t say nothing to me. He didn’t kick. He wasn’t angry. He just kind of stood there, and I just felt bad what I did.”
Hernandez’s lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, argued his client falsely confessed and lacks the mental ability to understand his rights. He described Hernandez’ demeanor on camera as exhausted from hours of questioning; Hernandez had been in custody nearly eight hours when the taping began.
“When those eight hours were finished, he was convinced he had something to do with the disappearance of Etan Patz,” Fishbein said.
In 2012, police got a lead that brought them to Hernandez, a high school dropout who had worked at a corner store near where Etan disappeared.
Hernandez, most recently a resident of Maple Shade, New Jersey, also told police that he confessed before: to his ex-wife, to a friend, and in front of about 15 people during a prayer circle at a church group. No one ever went to authorities.
“We were all holding hands and praying,” he said of the church meeting. “And everybody was confessing, so I confessed. I told them I killed a child.”
The hearing is expected to last several weeks.
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