By Natasja Sheriff
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The defense attorney for a former deli worker accused of murdering a missing New York boy in 1979 argued on Monday that his confession was unreliable and that prosecutors failed to present evidence of his guilt.
Pedro Hernandez, 54, charged with kidnapping and murder, confessed to police in 2012 that he choked 6-year-old Etan Patz, stuffed him in a box and left him in a New York 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 and his picture was one of the first to appear on milk cartons.
Patz has never been found but was declared dead in 2001. There was no forensic evidence presented at Hernandez' trial in state Supreme Court in Manhattan.
Defense attorneys say the Hernandez confession was coerced by police. They say Hernandez, arrested in 2012 on a tip that he had confessed to a church prayer group in New Jersey, is mentally ill, intellectually disabled and suffers hallucinations.
"Pedro Hernandez is the only witness against himself. The stories he told over the years, including in 2012 and since, are the only evidence," defense attorney Harvey Fishbein said in his summation to the jury. "Yet he is inconsistent and unreliable.
"You may have been waiting and waiting for evidence ... that says this story was reliable, that shows me he has information that only the killer would know,'" Fishbein said. "But that evidence never came because it does not exist."
Defense witnesses testified that Hernandez suffered a "schizotypal personality disorder," could not distinguish between what is real and what is imaginary and is at risk of confessing falsely due to intellectual disabilities.
If convicted, Hernandez faces the possibility of life in prison.
Prosecutors were to present their closing argument later on Monday, with deliberations to begin soon afterward.
In his confession videotaped by police, Hernandez described luring Patz into a deli where he worked with the offer of a soda, taking him to the basement and strangling him.
Listening to the closing arguments in court were the missing boy's father and sister, Stan and Shira Patz, as well as the defendant's wife, Rosemary, and daughter Becky Hernandez.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Bill Trott)