By Natasja Sheriff
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A jury considering murder charges against a former deli worker who confessed to killing 6-year-old Etan Patz began its 15th day of deliberations on Tuesday in a case that changed the way the United States responds to reports of missing children.
Pedro Hernandez, 54, is charged with the 1979 kidnap and murder of Patz, whose picture was among the first to appear on milk cartons in a national campaign to locate such children.
Last week, jurors at state Supreme Court in Manhattan told Justice Maxwell Wiley they were deadlocked but he told them to keep trying.
Patz vanished on May 25, 1979, as he walked alone for the first time to a school bus stop.
Hernandez told police in 2012 that he had choked Patz in the basement of a nearby deli where he worked, stuffed him in a box and left his still-moving body in an alley.
Hernandez's attorneys argued he is mentally ill and that police coerced his confession. They blame the boy's disappearance on Jose Ramos, whose girlfriend walked Patz home from school and who was long considered the prime suspect.
Ramos, convicted of sexually abusing boys, is serving a prison term in Pennsylvania.
Patz, whose disappearance led to a massive search, was never found and was declared dead in 2001.
Deliberations in the case were believed to be among the longest in state criminal court history, said David Bookstaver, spokesman for New York state's Office of Court Administration, which does not keep records on the length of jury deliberations.
If the jury remains unable to reach a verdict and a mistrial is declared, the prosecution would have to decide whether to retry the case.
Jurors earlier heard 10 weeks of witness testimony in the case and started deliberations on April 15.
One week into their deliberations, the jurors asked the judge for access to an Excel spreadsheet in an effort to organize their discussions.
On Monday, they asked to print out 12 copies of the spreadsheet so they could work together and discuss the same information, and the judge had a printer installed for the panel to use.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bill Trott)