US & Canada

Etan Patz murder: Mistrial declared in case of missing boy

A street shrine to six-year-old Etan Patz Image copyright AFP
Image caption A street shrine to six-year-old Etan Patz in New York City

A mistrial has been declared in the case of six-year-old Etan Patz who went missing in 1979 in New York City.

The jury was unable to reach a verdict on defendant Pedro Hernandez, who confessed in 2012 to killing the boy.

Mr Hernandez's lawyers say the confession was false and he is mentally ill. He will remain in jail until a date is set for a new trial.

The boy vanished while walking to a school bus stop, in a prominent case that baffled authorities for decades.

Etan's father, Stanley Patz, expressed his frustration over the jury's inability to decide but added, "I think we have closure already."

Etan's disappearance was one of most prominent missing person cases of the 1980s. He was the first missing child to appear on milk cartons.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Pedro Hernandez has confessed to killing Etan Patz

In 2012, Mr Hernandez admitted choking the boy in the basement of the shop where he worked, putting the body in a bag, putting the bag in a banana box and eventually dumping the body about two blocks away from the store.

But Etan's body was never found, and no physical evidence was uncovered to link Mr Hernandez to the crime.

Defence lawyer Harvey Fishbein said during closing arguments: "Pedro Hernandez is the only witness against himself. The stories he told over the years, including in 2012, and since, are the only evidence. Yet he is inconsistent and unreliable.''

Image copyright Reuters

Mr Hernandez's lawyers pointed to another suspect Jose Ramos, a convicted paedophile.

According to a former prison informant with whom lawyers were working, Ramos claimed he was with Etan the day the boy vanished and admitted molesting the child.

During 18 days of deliberations, the jury was deadlocked three times before the judge declared the mistrial.

District Attorney Cyrus Vance on Friday thanked the Patz family for their "courage and determination" over the years.

"The challenges in this case were exacerbated by the passage of time, but they should not, and did not, deter us," Mr Vance said.

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