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Pedro Hernandez, a clerk in a Manhattan bodega, had confessed to luring the 6-year-old Etan Patz into the store’s basement and attacking him in 1979
Pedro Hernandez, a former stock clerk in a Manhattan bodega who confessed to luring the 6-year-old Etan Patz into the store’s basement and attacking him, was found guilty on Tuesday of murder and kidnapping, a long-awaited step toward solving the nearly 40-year mystery that bedeviled investigators and forever changed the way parents watched over their children. A jury in State Supreme Court found Mr. Hernandez guilty on the ninth day of deliberations and two lengthy trials that brought new attention to Etan’s disappearance on May 25, 1979, as he walked to his school bus stop alone for the first time.
Prosecutors sought to portray Mr. Hernandez as mercurial and controlling yet also deeply religious and desperate to unburden himself of the guilt he carried for attacking Etan. To support that argument, the prosecution called to testify different people to whom Mr. Hernandez had made admissions over the years, telling them, with some varying details, that he had killed a child in New York City. A member of a church group testified that Mr. Hernandez fell to his knees in tears, saying he had attacked a child. His former wife, with whom he has had an acrimonious relationship, recalled on the witness stand him pulling her aside before they married and telling her he had killed a “muchacho,” which she had inferred to be a teenage boy. Though she also testified that, after they had married, she found an image of Etan, taken from one of the missing posters, in a box of his in a closet.
They described Mr. Hernandez as having a low I.Q. and a personality disorder that made it difficult for him to distinguish between reality and fantasy. The defense contended that Mr. Hernandez’s confessions reflected a fiction he had concocted. They also argued that he was susceptible to pressure from detectives during an hourslong interrogation where, at one point, he had curled on the floor into the fetal position and repeatedly asked to go home.
At the time, Mr. Hernandez was an 18-year-old high school dropout who had recently come to the city from Camden, N.J. Prosecutors said that soon after Etan disappeared, possibly within days, Mr. Hernandez returned to New Jersey, later taking a job at a dress factory.