By Natasja Sheriff
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The mother of Etan Patz, a boy whose disappearance from a New York City street in 1979 ignited a national movement to find missing children, will tell jurors at his accused killer's trial about the "nightmare that never ended," a prosecutor said on Friday.
In opening statements in the kidnapping and murder trial of Pedro Hernandez, Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said the former deli worker who confessed to the crime had upended an average American family's life and sent it spiraling into unthinkable tragedy.
"You will hear from Julie Patz... about her quite ordinary life, a regular American tale, interrupted by a nightmare that never ended," Illuzzi-Orbon told jurors seated before Judge Maxwell Wiley in state Supreme Court in Manhattan.
Patz was six years old when he vanished while walking alone to a school bus stop for the first time in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan on May 25, 1979. His body was never found, but he was declared legally dead in 2001.
Hernandez, 54, confessed to the crime in 2012, but his defense attorney has said the confession was coerced and that Hernandez is mentally ill.
He is charged with kidnapping and murder.
During jury selection, Illuzzi-Orbon said the case would not feature "high tech forensic evidence," but would take them back 35 years "to a time when the Brady Bunch was still on TV."
Patz' disappearance prompted President Ronald Reagan to sign into law the Missing Children’s Assistance Act, and Patz was one of the first missing children whose picture appeared on a milk carton.
In 2012, investigators received a tip from Hernandez's brother-in-law, who told police Hernandez allegedly confessed to the crime to a church prayer group in the 1980s.
Hernandez, in a videotaped confession to police, said he lured Patz to the basement of the deli where he worked near the child's home, strangled him and dumped him in an alley.
Hernandez has recanted, and his defense attorney has argued he has a history of mental illness, including hallucinations.
The defense fought to have the confession ruled inadmissible, arguing Hernandez did not understand his rights, but the judge has ruled that it was legally obtained.
Hernandez was 18 when Patz disappeared. He later moved to southern New Jersey, where he was living with his wife and daughter at the time of his arrest.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)