Etan Patz murder trial continues despite discovery of 3 boxes of evidence

Etan Patz murder trial continues despite discovery of 3 boxes of evidence
Pedro Hernandez appears in Manhattan criminal court in New York in 2012. He is charged in the death of 6-year-old Etan Patz, who disappeared on his way to a school bus stop in 1979. Three boxes of new evidence in the case have been discovered during the trial. (Louis Lanzano / Associated Press)

Documents recently discovered from the investigation in a missing boy's case dating back 36 years include notes from a police officer's interviews with people who claimed to have seen the child, Etan Patz, in the apartment building of a man other than the defendant on trial for murder.

Defense attorney Alice Fontier said the team representing Pedro Hernandez, who is on trial in Etan's 1979 disappearance, had not yet had time to go through the more than 3,000 items recently discovered in three boxes in a Harlem police station. Nobody has been able to explain how the three boxes containing the material ended up at the station, which is in a different precinct far from the Soho neighborhood where Etan, who was 6 at the time, disappeared.


The defense did not demand a mistrial, and Fontier said she was not accusing prosecutors of intentionally concealing any of the information. But she said there were 39 pages of documents in the boxes that were records from a police officer involved in the investigation, who lived in the same apartment building where a man once considered a possible suspect lived at the time Etan vanished.

According to the officer's notes, "many residents positively identified Etan Patz as having been in that building with Jose Ramos," Fontier said. Ramos never was charged in the boy's death, but he is in prison in Pennsylvania for convictions in unrelated child sexual abuse cases.

Ramos had been a boyfriend of a woman who worked as a baby sitter for the Patz family, and defense attorneys have portrayed him as a more likely suspect than Hernandez. Ramos has denied involvement in Etan's disappearance.

The boxes' discovery was the latest in many twists in one of the nation's most infamous missing-child cases.

Etan's body never was found, and Hernandez was not arrested until 2012, when he confessed to police.

His attorneys say Hernandez has an IQ of about 70 and suffers from delusions, and they say he lacks the mental capacity to have gotten away with such a crime for so many years.

Prosecutors say Hernandez, who worked at a small grocery store near Etan's apartment, saw the boy walking to his school bus stop alone early one morning, lured him into the store's basement with promises of a soda, and strangled him.

No physical evidence was ever found linking Hernandez, 52, to Etan.

Hernandez was arrested in May 2012 after people who knew him said they recalled his confessions decades earlier to them that he had killed a child in New York City.

Hernandez subsequently confessed to police, and as testimony resumed Tuesday, lead defense attorney Harvey Fishbein sought to show that his confession was coerced.

Fishbein showed jurors portions of a video of three detectives questioning Hernandez, who wept frequently and spoke in a high, thin voice. "It was something that just happened," Hernandez said at one point, after telling police he had choked Etan.

His confession came after more than six hours of questioning in a small interrogation room, and the video showed one officer rubbing Hernandez's shoulder and bowed, bald head, and another praising him for having confessed to the crime.

"It was a very emotional time," David Ramirez, one of the police detectives in the video, testified when asked under cross-examination why the officers had appeared so caring toward Hernandez.

Fishbein is trying to convince jurors that the police wore Hernandez down in hours of questioning and then coached him to make his confession by promising to get him his anti-seizure medication and to make sure he got to a doctor's appointment.


Ramirez testified that he heard Hernandez twice express a desire to go home during the questioning. Ramirez recalled telling Hernandez that police just had a few more questions to ask him and would take him home when they were done.

It remains unclear whether the defense will later call for a mistrial. Fontier indicated before testimony resumed Tuesday that the defense team still had more than 2,000 items, including documents, to go through from the boxes found in the Harlem police station.

The trial, which began in late January, is expected to last several more weeks.

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