NY judge weighs use of hypnotized witnesses in Etan Patz case

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2014 2:25 PM

By Natasja Sheriff

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York judge is weighing whether the testimony of witnesses who were hypnotized can be used as evidence against a man who has confessed to killing Etan Patz, a 6-year-old boy who vanished from a New York City street more than three decades ago.

The trial of the accused killer, Pedro Hernandez, is set to begin early next month.

Patz's disappearance on May 25, 1979, as he walked unaccompanied for the first time to a school bus stop in Manhattan, drew national attention. It prompted President Ronald Reagan to sign into law the Missing Children's Assistance Act, and he was one of the first missing children whose face appeared on a milk carton.

At a pre-trial hearing in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, Hernandez’ defense attorney Harvey Fishbein said various witnesses who may have come into contact with Patz on the morning of his disappearance were placed under hypnosis in the 1980s to help them remember what they might have seen.

“My guess is that anything that was said under hypnosis is not admissible unless the witness adopts it now as his present memory," the attorney said.

Prosecutors with the Manhattan District Attorney's office requested that hypnosis and post-hypnosis information about any witness not be mentioned during the trial.

Justice Maxwell Wiley took the issue under consideration, and it was left unresolved at least until another hearing next week.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Jan. 5.

Hernandez confessed in 2012 to choking Patz in the basement of a local deli before putting his body in a garbage bag and a box, and leaving him in a nearby alley.

Hernandez was not hypnotized.

Patz's body was never found, but he was legally declared dead in 2012.

Hernandez faces two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree kidnapping.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Bernadette Baum)