New informant in Etan Patz case is an inmate, attorney says

AP News
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Posted: Jan 16, 2015 5:53 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Prosecutors' recently revealed informant in the infamous missing-child case of Etan Patz is an inmate, a defense lawyer said Friday, shedding some light on a witness who has emerged late in the 35-year-long case.

It's still unclear what the person has offered to add to the evidence against Pedro Hernandez, the long-unknown suspect in an abduction that helped build national momentum for solving missing-child cases.

Six-year-old Etan vanished while walking to his school bus stop on May 25, 1979; the anniversary later became National Missing Children's Day. Hernandez was arrested in 2012 after giving a confession his lawyers say was false.

The Associated Press first reported the informant's existence earlier this week, when prosecutors disclosed it with jury selection under way for Hernandez' murder trial. They wouldn't give details, including how the person knew Hernandez.

That became clearer Friday, when defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein described the person as an inmate during a brief court discussion. Hernandez has been jailed since his 2012 arrest.

The informant's name has been shielded by a court order, with a judge citing safety concerns. Fishbein said Hernandez isn't the source of those concerns; the attorney wouldn't elaborate.

Both defense lawyers and prosecutors said they couldn't disclose what the person is expected to say.

The informant adds a new element to a prosecution highlighted by Hernandez' videotaped confessions to authorities and buttressed by 1980s comments he made to friends and relatives about having harmed or killed a child in New York City. Hernandez worked at a convenience store in Etan's Manhattan neighborhood when the boy disappeared.

Hernandez's defense argues that any incriminating statements he made were products of his imagination, an imagination warped by mental illness that makes it difficult for him to distinguish what is and isn't real. He has pleaded not guilty.

Jury selection continues next week.

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Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.