Retrial opens for man accused of 1979 murder of New York boy

By David Ingram

NEW YORK A New York City jury will hear opening arguments on Wednesday in the retrial of a man charged with kidnapping and killing a six-year-old Etan Patz in 1979, a notorious case that drew national attention to the plight of missing children.

Pedro Hernandez, 55, is on trial in a state court for the second time in the death of the boy, who disappeared in lower Manhattan 37 years ago.

Hernandez’s first trial ended last year with the judge declaring a mistrial. Jurors deliberated for 18 days without reaching a verdict. Eleven of them had voted to convict, while one held out for acquittal.

A former delicatessen worker, Hernandez confessed to the crimes in 2012, but his defense attorneys say he is mentally ill and falsely confessed under police coercion. He could face life in prison if convicted.

Patz vanished as he walked alone for the first time to a school bus stop in the SoHo neighborhood on May 25, 1979.

Jury selection for the second trial began last month and finished on Tuesday.

U.S. criminal trials generally require a unanimous jury to convict, and prosecutors must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Patz’s picture was one of the first to appear on milk cartons, which in the 1980s became a popular vehicle for seeking leads about missing children. His disappearance also helped bring about a national database about such cases.

Despite a massive search, Patz’s body was never found. He was declared legally dead in 2001.

Then, in 2012, investigators received a tip from Hernandez’s brother-in-law, who told police Hernandez had confessed to the crime to a prayer group in the 1980s.

Hernandez, in a videotaped confession to police, said he lured Patz to the basement of the deli where he worked near the child’s home, strangled him, placed the child’s body in a garbage bag and a box, and dumped him in an alley.

He later recanted, and at the first trial, his attorneys argued he had a history of mental illness, including hallucinations.

Hernandez was 18 when Patz disappeared. He later moved to southern New Jersey, where he lived at the time of his arrest.

During the first trial, the defense tried to blame another man, Jose Ramos, who dated a Patz family babysitter and was long considered the prime suspect. Ramos is serving a prison term after being convicted of sexually abusing boys.

(Editing by Frank McGurty and Bill Rigby)

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