Three boxes of evidence from the investigation into the 1979 disappearance and presumed death of schoolboy Etan Patz have turned up while a suspect is on trial for the killing, and his attorney said Monday she may have to seek a mistrial or at least recall witnesses who have already testified.
Alice Fontier, one of the attorneys representing Pedro Hernandez, said there were more than 1,400 pages of information on the case in one box alone.
"Given this massive disclosure at this point, in the middle of the trial, there may be issues,” she said. “We may need to recall some of their witnesses. We may need to move for a mistrial.”
The boxes were found recently at a Harlem police station that covers public housing complexes in the area, prosecutors said late last week. The location is miles from the precinct near where Etan disappeared on May 25, 1979, as he walked to school. Etan's body has never been found, and he was declared dead in 2001.
The boxes contain police records from the investigation, notes from assistant district attorneys who worked on the case, and handwritten memos from a detective who investigated longtime suspect Jose Ramos, who was never charged. Some of the information involves two informants who were working with prosecutors to try to link Ramos to Etan's death. Other boxes contain missing-person posters, records of people arrested and catalogs of files made by the original detective on the case.
Assistant Dist. Atty. Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said last week that prosecutors were working to turn over the information to defense attorneys. They are still working on copying one box, she said Monday.
Outside court, defense attorney Harvey Fishbein said it was unclear what's in the documents but he hopes they won't affect the case and he doesn't want a mistrial.
“We want it resolved for Mr. Hernandez,” he said. “He's been in jail for three years, so we definitely want to continue this case.”
Hernandez, a former bodega worker, pleaded not guilty to Etan's murder after telling police he strangled the boy.
Hernandez, most recently a resident of Maple Shade, N.J., confessed in 2012 to choking Etan in the basement of the SoHo convenience store where he worked as a stock clerk. He told police he put the boy's body in a bag, stuck the bag in a box and walked it down the street, where he dumped it with some curbside trash.
His defense says the admissions were the fictional ravings of a mentally ill man with a low IQ who didn't understand his right to silence.