For the second time in its deliberations, a jury Tuesday declared itself unable to reach a verdict in the trial of a man charged with abducting and killing Etan Patz, a 6-year-old boy who vanished 36 years ago, but the judge told them to keep trying.
The seven-man, five-woman jury sent a note to Judge Maxwell Wiley on its 15th day of deliberations saying it was deadlocked in the case of Pedro Hernandez, who was an 18-year-old store clerk in Manhattan's Soho neighborhood when Etan vanished on May 25, 1979.
Hernandez has been in custody since May 2012, when people who knew him told police that they recalled hearing him confess years earlier to having harmed a boy in New York City.
"After serious, significant and thorough deliberations, we remain unable to reach a unanimous decision," the jury said in its note.
It was the second time jurors had declared themselves deadlocked. After the first time, last Wednesday, Wiley instructed them to return to continue deliberating, saying the breadth of the trial, which began more than three months ago and included testimony from dozens of witnesses, warranted long and careful consideration.
He repeated that instruction Tuesday. "I'd like you to keep deliberating," Wiley told the jurors, who during their discussions have requested readbacks of several hours of testimony and of both sides' closing arguments.
Prosecutors built their case around a confession that Hernandez made to police after being arrested at his home in Maple Shade, N.J. The defense argued that Hernandez was coerced into confessing.
The trial dredged up memories of Etan's disappearance, which spurred a national effort to improve efforts to trace missing children. Prosecution witnesses included Etan's mother, Julie Patz, who testified about the morning she let Etan walk by himself to the school bus stop for the first time.
It was a "spur-of-the-moment" decision, she told the court.
Etan was never seen again, and his body has never been found. He was declared dead in 2001.
Tips led police to Hernandez, but defense attorney Harvey Fishbein said the more likely culprit was a convicted child molester, Jose Ramos, who was a friend of a young woman hired by the Patz family to walk Etan to and from school during the spring of 1979.
Fishbein also said that Hernandez had an IQ of about 70, could not always tell truth from fiction, and was tricked into confessing by police who pretended to be his friends.
Ramos, who is in prison in Pennsylvania on an unrelated case, has denied involvement in Etan's death, but Fishbein called witnesses who testified that Ramos had known Etan through his friend in 1979 and had spent time in the Patz apartment.
"The only evidence against Pedro Hernandez are his words. His words are unreliable," Fishbein said of his client.