A Manhattan jury has convicted Pedro Hernandez, 55, for the 1979 kidnapping and murder of six-year-old Etan Patz, thereby providing closure to a case that shocked the nation, haunted New York City, and has continued to affect parents and children around the world for the past four decades.
Still, some observers have raised questions as to whether or not Hernandez is actually Etan’s killer, or that perhaps he didn’t act alone. The doubts stem largely from the fact that Etan’s body has never been recovered, and no physical evidence connects Hernandez to the case.
Regardless, as the jury delivered the multiple guilty verdicts, Stan Patz, Etan’s father, gripped the hands of two friends next to him and then finally exhaled, whispering, “Yeah.”
Hernandez, who has an IQ of 70 and has been diagnosed with an array of mental illnesses, remained emotionless upon hearing the news. His 2015 trial on second-degree murder charges resulted in a hung jury.
Etan disappeared on the morning of May 25, 1979 while walking to a school bus stop. His parents, Stan and Julie Patz, were allowing the boy make the trip by himself that day for the very first time.
The case profoundly upset the public and focused attention on the plight of missing and exploited children, a cause taken up by millions in the years since. It also severely intensified the concept of “stranger danger” in modern parenting.
In addition, Etan became one of the first “milk carton kids,” as his photographs and information appeared on milk cartons in hope that it would lead to locating him. While the milk carton campaign led to multiple other missing children being found, Etan was never among them.
At the time Etan vanished, Pedro Hernandez was an 18-year-old worker at a bodega near Etan’s home in the SoHo neighborhood.
In May 2012, Hernandez told police that he had lured Etan into the basement of the store and strangled him. Hernandez said he then wrapped Etan’s body in plastic, hid it in a cardboard box, and dumped the package in a trash pile for pickup.
The prosecution’s case against Hernandez was based overwhelmingly on that confession.
Defense attorney Harvey Fishbein repeatedly attacked the reliability of Hernandez’s own words. He cited the suspect’s low intelligence quotient and psychological deficiencies, coupled with the fact that police subjected Hernandez to seven hours of questioning before he confessed.
Nonetheless, Stan Patz teared up as he thanked the jurors, and said,
“The Patz family has waited a long time, but we finally have found some measure of justice for our wonderful little boy Etan. I’m really grateful that this verdict finally came back with what I have known for a long time, that this man Pedro Hernandez is guilty of doing something really terrible so many years ago.”
District Attorney Cyrus Vance told the press:
“The disappearance of Etan Patz haunted families in New York and across the country for nearly four decades. Etan’s legacy will endure through his family’s long history of advocacy on behalf of missing children. However, it is my hope that today’s verdict provides the Patz family with the closure they so desperately deserve.”
Fishbein, however, later told reporters: “I hate to say it, but we’re confident we’ll be back here someday. In the end, we don’t believe this will resolve the story of what happened to Etan back in 1979.”
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Feature photo: Wikimedia Commons