Man convicted of NY child murder, four decades on

The Sun

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NEW YORK: A jury on Tuesday convicted a man of kidnapping and murdering a six-year-old boy in New York almost 40 years ago in a case that still haunts US parents and changed how child abductions are handled.

Etan Patz vanished on May 25, 1979 after leaving his parents' home in Manhattan to walk alone for the first time to the school bus stop.

His parents only discovered he was missing after he failed to come home from school at the end of the day. His body was never found and the case was one of the city's great unsolved crimes for decades.

His disappearance also awakened Americans to the dangers of child abduction and fuelled a generation of hyper-vigilant child rearing by parents terrified of letting their offspring out of their sight.

Pedro Hernandez, who was 18 years old at the time and worked at a convenience store near the bus stop, was convicted Tuesday at the end of a second trial after a jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict in 2015.

On Tuesday the jury returned a verdict of murder in the second degree and kidnapping in the first degree after nine days of deliberations at the State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

Etan's father Stan, a photographer whose pictures of his son were the first of a missing child featured on milk cartons in a nationwide search, thanked prosecutors and the jury for returning the verdict.

"The Patz family has waited a long time but we finally have found some measure of justice for our wonderful little boy Etan," he told reporters.

"I am really grateful that this jury finally came back with what I have known for a long time that this man Pedro Hernandez is guilty of doing something really terrible so many years ago," he said.

Hernandez, 56, confessed to police in 2012 that he killed Etan in the basement of the convenience store before dumping his body out with the trash.

But he later retracted his confession and pleaded not guilty.

Low IQ

Defence lawyer Harvey Fishbein vowed to appeal.

He argued that Hernandez had an IQ of 70, which would put him in the bottom 2% of the population, and said that a convicted sex offender named Jose Ramos was the real culprit.

Hernandez is to be sentenced on Feb 28, said a clerk to Judge Maxwell Wiley, who presided over both trials.

Wiley declared a mistrial in May 2015 after the first jury informed him they could not agree to acquit or convict him after three weeks of deliberations. Just one person on the original 12-member panel refused to convict Hernandez.

The dissenting juror said he was swayed by arguments over Hernandez's poor mental health and described the accused's confession as "very bizarre no matter how many times it happened".

Prosecutors had fought hard to build a case despite having no physical evidence to tie Hernandez to the crime.

"The disappearance of Etan Patz haunted families in New York and across the country for nearly four decades," said Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance.

"It is my hope that today's verdict provides the Patz family with the closure they so desperately deserve," he added.

In 1983, then US president Ronald Reagan declared the anniversary of his disappearance National Missing Children's Day.

Etan was declared legally dead in 2001. — AFP

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