By Natasja Sheriff
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A longtime friend of Pedro Hernandez, the man charged in the 1979 murder of 6-year-old Etan Patz, testified on Monday that Hernandez told him decades ago that he had killed a boy.
Hernandez, 54, is on trial on charges of kidnapping and murdering Patz, who disappeared on May 25, 1979, while walking alone to a school bus stop in Manhattan's Soho neighborhood.
Testifying in state court in Manhattan, Mark Pike said Hernandez confessed to him on the porch of the Hernandez family home in New Jersey in 1979 or 1980 that he had killed a boy in New York.
"He told me that he was working in a supermarket and a kid threw a ball at his throat," said Pike, 51. "He told me he strangled the kid then he put him in a bag and in a nearby alley."
When asked why he killed the boy, Pike said Hernandez told him, "It was a dark kid, forget about it."
Pike did not testify that Hernandez had specifically identified the boy he had killed as Patz.
Pike, who as a teenager lived on the same street as Hernandez in Camden, New Jersey, said he did not believe the confession at the time.
Pike and Hernandez belonged to the same church group, whose members testified last week that on a religious retreat in 1979 Hernandez confessed to the group that he had killed Patz. Pike, who did not join the retreat, said Hernandez told him separately about the murder.
Hernandez was arrested in 2012 after police got a tip about remarks made to a church group. He then confessed to police that he had lured Patz to the basement of the Soho deli where he worked, strangled him, placed him while still alive in a trash bag and dumped the body in an alley.
His defense attorneys say police coerced that confession and that Hernandez is mentally ill and suffers hallucinations.
Patz's body was never found, but in 2001 a court declared him legally dead.
His disappearance sparked a national movement to find missing children, and he was one of the first missing children whose picture appeared on a milk carton.
(Editing by Laila Kearney; Editing by Will Dunham)