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Mistrial Declared In 1979 Disappearance Case Of Etan Patz

Etan Patz, and the "lost child" poster issued after his 1979 disappearance.
AFP/Getty Images
Etan Patz, and the "lost child" poster issued after his 1979 disappearance.

A judge in New York has declared a mistrial after a jury was unable to return a verdict in the trial of Pedro Hernandez, the man accused of the 1979 kidnapping and murder of Etan Patz, a 6-year-old boy whose case drew national attention to missing and abducted children.

Justice Maxwell Wiley declared a hung jury after seven men and five women hearing the case deliberated for 18 days and told the judge for the third time that they were hopelessly deadlocked.

Patz vanished on May 25, 1979, and became one of the first missing children to be pictured on milk cartons.

Hernandez, who was a teenage stock clerk at a Manhattan convenience store at the time Etan disappeared, confessed to the murder 33 years later, in 2012. Police arrested Hernandez soon after.

However, the defense has insisted that "the confession was false and concocted by mental illness, and they said another longtime suspect was the more likely killer," according to The Associated Press.

The New York Times writes:

"The hung jury left unresolved an investigation that bedeviled the New York police for decades and led to major reforms in the way the authorities around the country track child abduction.

"It also extended the uncertainty that year after year has tortured the Patz family since ... their son, wearing a pilot's cap and carrying a small bag full of toy cars, disappeared on the way to school. Etan's mother, Julie Patz, testified that it was the first day she had allowed her son to walk to the bus stop alone, and in no small measure, her nightmarish story came to embody the worst fears of American parents."

The Times says the jury was split 11-1 in favor of a conviction.

In a statement, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said "clear and corroborated evidence" of Hernandez's guilt was presented at trial.

Etan's father, Stanley Patz, who according to the AP tried for years to bring an earlier suspect to trial, said that he became "so convinced Pedro Hernandez kidnapped and killed my son. ... His story is simple, and it makes sense."

The Patz family is "frustrated and very disappointed the jury has been unable to make a decision. The long ordeal is not over," he said.

The Times notes: "The mistrial leaves [Vance] with a hard decision: Either pursue another costly trial with the same evidence that failed to convince the first jury or allow a man who confessed to murdering a child to go free. Following the mistrial, Mr. Vance issued a statement saying he believed Mr. Hernandez was guilty, but did not indicate whether he intended to retry him."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.