NEW YORK (AP) — Jurors in the murder trial surrounding the disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979 said Wednesday they were deadlocked after 10 days of deliberating and revisiting reams of testimony and exhibits, but the judge told them to keep going.
The jury sent a midday note saying it couldn't reach a unanimous decision in the trial of Pedro Hernandez, who is accused of kidnapping and killing a boy whose disappearance helped fuel a national movement to find missing children. Etan was among the first ever featured on a milk carton.
The defense argued for a mistrial, saying it was obvious the jury was hung and that asking it to continue would make jurors feel coerced to reach a verdict. Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley denied the request and told jurors to keep deliberating.
"Given the nature of this case, I don't think you've been considering this case long enough to conclude that you cannot reach a verdict," Wiley told the weary-looking jurors, praising their work so far.
High-profile cases often spawn long deliberations, and it's not surprising if juries hit a wall, says longtime Los Angeles-based jury consultant Philip K. Anthony.
"Being a juror is a high-stress event for most people in the population. And then, when you heap on top of that a trial with some sensationalism and notoriety associated with it, it becomes a real pressure-cooker for jurors," he said. But many stymied juries ultimately reach verdicts after being urged to try, he noted.
When jurors say they're deadlocked, it's common for judges — at least the first time — to send them back to keep going. Defense lawyers often object.
"They've reached a dead end," one of Hernandez's lawyers, Harvey Fishbein, said outside court. "The fact that they can't render a verdict, at this point, tells me they cannot do it."
But prosecutors said they were confident the jury could get past the impasse.
"This is a conscientious and hardworking jury, and we have every faith that, under the judge's guidance, they can continue to work together to reach a just verdict," said Joan Vollero, spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney's office.
Jurors were due back in court Thursday to have both sides' summations read back to them, an unusual request.
The case baffled authorities for decades — and then Hernandez made a surprise confession in 2012. He told authorities he choked Etan in the basement of a convenience store where he worked and dumped the body a few blocks away.
Acquaintances and relatives testified that Hernandez had told them in the 1980s he'd killed an unnamed child in New York. But prosecutors had no physical evidence linking Hernandez to the crime. Etan's body was never found.
Defense attorneys suggested another man had committed the crime and said Hernandez was mentally ill.
Etan's parents helped shepherd in an era of law enforcement advances that make it easier to track missing children and communicate between agencies. They were at the White House when President Ronald Reagan named May 25 National Missing Children's Day.
Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.