Man accused in 1979 NY murder admitted hurting boy: psychiatrist

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 27, 2015 4:19 PM

By Natasja Sheriff

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A man accused of killing a New York boy missing for decades admitted he had hurt a child but did not say he killed him, a psychiatrist testified on Friday.

Pedro Hernandez, on trial on charges of kidnapping and murdering 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979, made the confession during a psychiatric evaluation in a New York City jail, psychiatrist Flavia Robotti testified in state Supreme Court.

Hernandez was evaluated in 2012, a month after confessing to police that he choked the boy, stuffed him in a box and left him in a New York City alley.

Patz vanished as he walked alone for the first time to a school bus stop in his Manhattan neighborhood on May 25, 1979. His disappearance sparked a national movement to find missing children, with his picture one of the first to appear on milk cartons.

Hernandez' defense attorneys say his confession to police was coerced and that he is mentally ill and suffers hallucinations.

Evaluated at the Rikers Island jail complex, Hernandez was in emotional turmoil and felt suicidal, Robotti testified.

"He said he felt terrible because, in his own words, 'I hurt a child,'" she said.

"He never said 'kill.' He said, 'I hurt a child,'" she said.

Hernandez told her he hurt the boy when he was working in a small grocery store in Patz' neighborhood after offering him a soda, she testified.

In videotaped confessions to police, Hernandez also said he lured the boy into the store and said the boy was still alive when Hernandez put him in a box and dumped him in the alley.

Hernandez did not identify the boy by name in the police confessions but acknowledged the boy was Patz when detectives showed him a photograph.

During questioning by defense attorney Harvey Fishbein, the psychiatrist said she had not recorded the confession in her medical report and was relying on memory for the details.

What she recorded in her notes was his desire to kill himself, she testified.

He said "I want to die" and "I am in constant pain," she testified.

Hernandez, 54, was arrested in 2012 after police got a tip that he confessed to the crime to a church prayer group in New Jersey.

His attorneys blame another man, Jose Antonio Ramos, who for many years was a prime suspect in the case. Ramos is a convicted child molester in prison in Pennsylvania.

(Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Bill Trott)