Deliberations drag out in 1979 case of missing boy Etan Patz

AP News
|
Posted: Apr 29, 2015 10:29 AM
Deliberations drag out in 1979 case of missing boy Etan Patz

NEW YORK (AP) — Over nine days, the 12 jurors have asked to see dozens of exhibits, to have hours and hours of trial transcripts read to them and for access to a computer to organize their thoughts.

Still, no verdict.

The deliberations at the trial of a man accused of killing 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979 have become a waiting game befitting of a notorious missing-child case that's already spanned decades. The jury returned to court in Manhattan on Wednesday on Day 10 with no clear indication of whether they're close to deciding if Pedro Hernandez is guilty of murder and kidnapping.

Lawyers caution that protracted deliberations after a long trial aren't uncommon. Nor are they an indicator of which way jurors are leaning on guilt or innocence or if they're deadlocked, said Hernandez attorney Harvey Fishbein.

"This is an intelligent and hardworking jury who has asked for testimony on all the issues that have concerned the defense from the start of this case," Fishbein said outside court. Prosecutors have not commented on the case outside of court.

Etan vanished May 25, 1979, after leaving his family's SoHo apartment to walk to the bus. The disappearance helped galvanize the modern-day missing-children's movement, with his picture one of the first to appear on a milk carton.

After police received a fresh tip in 2012, Hernandez confessed in a lengthy videotape that he choked Etan in the basement of a New York City convenience store. Defense attorneys tried to convince the jury the defendant is mentally ill, that his confession was a delusion and that a convicted pedophile, now jailed in Pennsylvania, was the more likely culprit.

Opening statements began at the end of January, when the city was in the midst of a harsh winter. The deliberations have helped push the trial well into spring — something the judge has alluded to when bidding farewell to jurors each evening.

"Have a great night," he said Tuesday. "You'll like the weather outside."

If there was any discord among the five women and seven men, it didn't show: Many were smiling as they walked out a side door.

Since beginning deliberations April 15, jurors have asked for — and mostly gotten — a variety of items including Hernandez's videotaped confessions, recordings of jail calls between Hernandez and his wife after his arrest and a missing-person poster signed by Hernandez.

They've asked for the weather report the day Etan went missing. On video, Hernandez described the weather as nice. Records showed it was cloudy and cool.

They also got access to the computer with a spreadsheet program, but not to a printer they said would help in the process. The judge told them the printer wasn't feasible.

Those on jury watch in the seventh-floor courtroom consist mostly of lawyers, investigators and journalists. Etan's father, Stan, who attended every day of the trial, has chosen to wait elsewhere.

The defendant's wife, Rosemary, and their daughter, Becky, have sat in the same row in the courtroom since deliberations began. On Tuesday, Becky Hernandez broke down in tears.

Hernandez, 54, has "been sitting in jail for three years," Fishbein said. "But I can't stress enough the toll this has taken on his wife and daughter, particularly his daughter."

Any observers trying to read the tea leaves Tuesday for some resolution had to factor in another request: The jury informed the court it wanted to leave early Wednesday because one juror has a child care issue.