Psychiatrist says Etan Patz murder suspect is mentally ill

AP News
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Posted: Mar 10, 2015 5:28 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A man who confessed to choking Etan Patz, a 6-year-old who disappeared in 1979 while walking to school, had a cocaine problem and abused his wife during arguments over drug money and is mentally ill, a renowned psychiatrist said Tuesday, testifying for the defense.

Pedro Hernandez, 54, has schizotypal personality disorder, which is in the spectrum of schizophrenia, according to Dr. Michael First of Columbia University. First is one of the editors of the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," which mental health professionals frequently use to classify mental disorders.

First diagnosed Hernandez after interviewing him three times and reviewing his medical records. The hallmarks of the illness include extreme social anxiety, delusions and a flat mood.

Hernandez confessed to police in 2012 that he choked Etan in the basement of a New York City convenience store where he worked after luring the boy there with the promise of a soda. He said he bagged the body and dumped it a few blocks away. The body was never found.

Defense attorneys are trying to show the lengthy videotaped confession is a delusion. Prosecutors say Hernandez's admissions are sound.

Hernandez, who most recently lived in Maple Shade, New Jersey, also confessed to First during each interview. But he said there were 15 people in the basement with him, including a child, a woman wearing pearls and people in hospital gowns who escorted him out of the basement. First said that couldn't possibly be true, "but from his perspective, the level of reality is all the same."

First said each time he interviewed Hernandez, the suspect's "level of doubt has gone up" on whether he committed the crime.

"He said he strangled a kid, but he didn't see his face; he actually had doubts that it was Etan Patz," First testified. "Even up to now he still doesn't necessarily believe that it was Etan Patz."

Etan's disappearance helped galvanize the modern-day missing children's movement. His picture was one of the first to appear on a milk carton.

First said he spoke to Hernandez and his wife, Rosemary, about violent episodes that occurred when Hernandez was using cocaine, which occurred on and off for 20 years.

"Rosemary was the only source of money at that point, so he had to rely on her for money," First said. "There were a couple of instances where things got very heated, even violent."

Judge Maxwell Wiley has limited what jurors may hear regarding Hernandez's drug abuse and violence toward his wife and daughter. The daughter testified Tuesday.

On cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Penelope Brady asked First about Hernandez's confessions to a nurse at Bellevue Hospital, where he initially was taken after his arrest for a mental evaluation, and an intake employee at Rikers Island jail. She suggested his confessions were real, even if his delusions were not.