Psych expert says suspect didn't understand rights

AP News
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Posted: Sep 30, 2014 10:00 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A man who admitted on videotape killing a boy missing since 1979 did not understand his right to silence, a defense psychologist testified Tuesday.

Bruce Frumkin said he tested Pedro Hernandez for hours and believes Hernandez would not have fully understood what he was agreeing to when he said he understood his Miranda rights.

A judge is weighing whether to allow the videotaped confession by Hernandez, who admitted choking 6-year-old Etan Patz and dumping his body, at trial. Etan vanished while walking to school, and his body was never found. The day he disappeared became National Missing Children's Day.

Hernandez, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer said he has a history of mental illness and his confession is false.

Frumkin tested Hernandez's IQ and his ability to understand complex questions and observed his behavior. He said Hernandez didn't score well: His IQ was about 70, which is the threshold for someone with an intellectual disability.

"Ninety-eight percent of the population in Hernandez's age range are brighter verbally than he is," Frumkin said.

Prosecutors sought to show that Frumkin's opinion was faulty. Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon read jailhouse calls in which Hernandez said he couldn't see during the testing because he didn't have his glasses, and she questioned the results of the testing. She also suggested that the psychologist should take into consideration Hernandez was perfectly capable of everyday life, buying real estate, passing classes in school and working, when weighing whether he was mentally capable of understanding his rights.

Orbon said Hernandez was willing to confess — he understood and didn't want to remain silent, telling a nurse the following day at a hospital that he had killed the boy. She read aloud a portion of his confession in which he says he understood his right to an attorney.

"I have nothing to hide no more," he tells a prosecutor in the tape. "I'm being honest. I feel bad what I did."