A NY state court jury found Pedro Hernandez guilty Tuesday in the 1979 kidnapping and murder of Etan Patz, a 6-year-old boy whose disappearance sparked an era of heightened awareness of crimes against children, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office said.
An Etan Patz missing poster on which Pedro Hernandez, during his original confession to police, wrote on the left side, "I am sorry I choke him", then signed it.
"The Patz family has waited a long time, but we've finally found some measure of justice for our wonderful little boy, Etan", his father, Stanley Patz, said through his tears.
Jurors delivered their verdict Tuesday in Pedro Hernandez' retrial. For years, Hernandez's attorneys have said that he has schizophrenia, a mental disorder that includes hallucinations and delusions. "He could tell fantasy from reality".
"He's just inconsistent, he's just unreliable and he's the only witness against himself", the defendant's lawyer Harvey Fishbein said.
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He disappeared in May 1979 while walking to his school bus stop two blocks from his home in the downtown SoHo section of NY for the first time by himself.
And his disappearance helped tilt parenting to more protectiveness in a nation where many families had felt comfortable letting children play and roam alone.
"It is Etan who will forever symbolize the loss of that innocence".
"The disappearance of Etan Patz haunted families in NY and across the country for almost four decades", said Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance. A lone holdout juror was unconvinced of his guilt, causing the judge to declare a mistrial in May 2015.
Hernandez, who worked as a shop clerk near where Etan lived, confessed to luring the boy into his basement with a drink before choking him to death.
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The decadeslong investigation took investigators as far as Israel, but Hernandez wasn't a suspect until renewed news coverage of the case prompted a brother-in-law to tell police that Hernandez in 2012 had revealed to a prayer group decades earlier that he'd killed a child in NY.
Hernandez, according to testimony at trial, made incriminating statements that varied in their details to a prayer group, an ex-wife and a friend.
Prosecutors re-opened the case seven years ago and in 2012 Hernandez was arrested. Instead, they relied largely on Hernandez's confession and on statements he had made to others over the years referring to the kidnapping. "I wanted to let go, but I just couldn't let go". He did not give a motive, saying only that "something took over me", but prosecutors believe he tried to sexually assault the 6-year-old.
Defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein argued in his summation that the real killer is convicted and now imprisoned child molester Jose Ramos, 73, who was a longtime suspect in the case.
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