For Etan Patz’s Parents, Man’s Murder Trial a Complex Case

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A look at Etan Patz case that fueled missing-child campaign.

For years, Etan Patz’ parents were sure they knew who had kidnapped the first-grader on his way to school in 1979, and they devoted themselves to trying to hold him accountable. NEW YORK (AP) — A look at the murder case stemming from the 1979 disappearance of Etan Patz, which helped catalyze a national missing-children’s campaign: Six-year-old Etan Patz was walking to his Manhattan school bus stop alone for the first time when he vanished May 25, 1979; the anniversary is now National Missing Children’s Day.

Testimony will soon start in the murder trial they so long awaited — with a different man at the defense table, a man never suspected until he gave a 2012 confession he now disavows. But it stands to be both searing and complex for the parents, who had pressed authorities to prosecute the earlier suspect — a convicted Pennsylvania child molester — and even brought their own wrongful-death suit against him. Prosecutors’ case appears to center on Hernandez’s confessions to them and police, plus statements authorities say he made to a friend, his ex-wife and a church prayer group in the 1980s about having harmed a child in New York. The prosecution team, led by veteran Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, hasn’t alluded to any physical evidence against Hernandez, and his defense has said there is none.

It recently emerged that an inmate informant will testify against Hernandez, but the person’s identity and details of the prospective testimony haven’t been released. Their faces were suddenly a nation’s portrait of parental agony that could strike anyone. “They were unassuming people who were living their lives, being part of their community, being friends with their neighbors, raising their children. The decision followed a weekslong hearing on whether Hernandez was properly advised of his rights to stay silent and mentally capable of understanding them. Cohen, the author of 2009’s “After Etan: The Missing Child Case That Held America Captive.” As the investigation stretched on, the Patzes grappled with police scrutiny and strangers questioning their parenting choices.

Hernandez’s defense maintains his confessions are the false imaginings of a man who has an IQ in the lowest 2 percent of the population and has problems discerning reality from fiction. He has taken anti-psychotic medication for years and has been diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder, which includes the characteristics of social isolation and odd beliefs. The defense — led by Harvey Fishbein, who has handled other murder cases involving psychiatric issues — and the prosecution differ on the extent and implications of Hernandez’s mental problems. Troubled by the gaps in a then highly localized approach to missing children, the Patzes became leaders within a burgeoning movement to make them a national cause.

The defense may ask the jury to consider that police questioned Hernandez for more than six hours before reading him his rights and turning on recorders. With the parents of abducted Florida boy Adam Walsh and others, they successfully pushed for federal legislation that allowed missing-child reports to be entered into the FBI’s national crime database. A civil court declared Ramos responsible for Etan’s death after he rebuffed questioning, but he was never criminally charged and has denied involvement.

Ramos has refused to testify at Hernandez’s trial, saying he’d invoke his rights against self-incrimination, but some evidence about the investigation into Ramos will be allowed. Hernandez ultimately gave police a videotaped confession to luring Etan to a basement with a soda, choking him and dumping his still-living body in a box with some curbside trash. “We spent many years of our lives pursuing one individual and were totally convinced that he committed the crime.

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