Jurors deciding the fate of a former grocery store clerk charged in the slaying of 6-year-old Etan Patz ended their seventh day of deliberations Thursday without a verdict after requesting hours of testimony be read back to them.
Judge Maxwell Wiley estimated that the readbacks, to done in court by a court reporter, would take at least four to six hours. They were expected to begin Friday morning.
Throughout previous readbacks, defendant Pedro Hernandez, 54, has sat quietly and looked straight ahead, as he did throughout the trial. His wife and grown daughter sit in court each day a couple of rows behind him in the wooden benches of the spectator section.
The seven-man, five-woman jury has requested readbacks of several witnesses' testimony this week. It also has asked to see a list of all of the witnesses who took the stand during the more than two-month-long trial, and to see all of the evidence submitted.
Jurors' request Thursday afternoon was to hear the complete testimony of two defense witnesses, former federal prosecutor Stuart GraBois and former FBI agent Mary Galligan.
The testimony of GraBois and Galligan bolstered the defense argument that convicted child molester Jose Ramos, not Hernandez, was likely responsible for abducting Etan 36 years ago. The readback request suggested that jurors are scrutinizing Ramos, who is in prison in Pennsylvania in an unrelated child abuse case. Ramos has denied abducting and killing Etan.
On Wednesday, jurors re-heard the testimony of Etan's childhood friend, Chelsea Altman, who recalled seeing Etan's babysitter walking and sometimes holding hands with a man when she walked Etan home after school. Ramos was dating the babysitter at that time. Altman, though, was not able to name the strange man and never identified him as Ramos.
Also this week, the jury asked to rehear the testimony of Jose Lopez, the brother-in-law of Hernandez, whose call to police led to Hernandez's arrest; and the testimony of two psychiatrists who interviewed Hernandez after his arrest. Jurors also requested permission to use a computer to create a spreadsheet to "organize their thoughts" and make lists.
The trial is being closely watched because of the impact Etan's disappearance had on law enforcement response to missing children reports, and because of the questions surrounding Hernandez's confession.
Etan disappeared on May 25, 1979, while walking to his school bus stop in Manhattan's then-desolate SoHo neighborhood. His body never has been found. Hernandez was arrested in 2012 after his brother-in-law told police that Hernandez had confessed during a church retreat to "hurting a child" years earlier.
Hernandez then confessed to police in Maple Shade, N.J., where he was living. That confession, shown on video to jurors, is key to the prosecution's case. The defense contends that the confession was coerced by officers eager to close the cold case.
In the video, Hernandez says he lured Etan into the grocery store basement with promises of a soda, strangled him, and left his body in a box in a nearby alley.
Bob Lowery, vice president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said the Etan Patz case captured and held the nation's attention for several reasons.
Etan's father, Stan Patz, was a photographer whose many pictures of his son appeared on "missing" posters that went up across the nation's largest city after the mysterious disappearance.
"That happy little boy. I think that struck a chord with a lot of people," Lowery said of the photos in a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times. So did the fact that Etan had vanished just blocks from his home as he walked to the bus stop alone for the first time, in a neighborhood that felt safe to him and to his parents.
"That represented all of our own worst fears. And that fact that he was never found -- that's every parent's worst nightmare," Lowery said.
Etan's case kickstarted a national effort to improve police response to missing-child cases, and Lowery noted that the Center for Missing and Exploited Children was founded in large part because of Etan. The boy's parents pushed for quicker police response to missing-child reports and for a national database to be established to better track lost or abducted children.
Etan's face was the first to appear on milk cartons as part of the national tracing effort, Lowery said. In 1983, President Reagan proclaimed May 25, the anniversary of Etan's disappearance, National Missing Children's Day.
According to the center, the percentage of missing children it has helped find has grown from 62% in 1990 to 90% today. Amber Alerts alone have led to the recovery of 758 children since that program began in 1996, the center’s website says.
“In 1979, who knows -- if Amber Alerts existed, or if there were surveillance cameras on street corners like there are today, could Etan have been found?” Lowery said. “That’s something we ponder every day.”
If Hernandez is convicted, he faces life in prison.
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