Suspect In Etan Patz Case Was 'A Quiet Man'

The man who confessed to killing 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979 is expected to be arraigned on Friday. New York City police say Pedro Hernandez admitted to luring the boy into a neighborhood grocery store, choking him and stuffing his body into a trash bag. There are numerous questions regarding the validity of Hernandez's confession and whether prosecutors have evidence that would corroborate his story.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. The New Jersey man who confessed to killing 6-year-old Etan Patz was arraigned today in New York. He's been charged with second-degree murder. Patz vanished back in 1979 while walking to his school bus stop. The suspect now says he lured the boy into a local grocery store, choked him to death, and put his body in the trash. The suspect's lawyer says his client is mentally ill. NPR's Margot Adler reports.

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: Pedro Hernandez was taken to Bellevue Hospital earlier today. Police told NPR it was for an unspecified medical condition. But the AP reported that while there, he was given a psychological evaluation. Some of his relatives told the New Jersey Star Ledger that he suffered from a variety of medical conditions. One relative said Hernandez told her he was bipolar. Another relative said he suffered from cancer. None of this has been corroborated.

People questioned in Hernandez's New Jersey neighborhood spoke of a quiet man. Chuck Dean is a retired police officer who lives next door to the Hernandez family.

CHUCK DEAN: Never really had a conversation with him for three years. I figured there was something wrong. Perhaps he was evasive. You would never know. You would never know what was going on in that house.

ADLER: The legal situation surrounding the case is complicated. The prosecution has three and a half hours of a signed, videotaped confession. Hernandez apparently did not have a lawyer present when he made the confession; he does have one now - Harvey Fishbein, a court-appointed lawyer.

At the arraignment, which took place via video hookup between Bellevue Hospital and the Manhattan D.A.'s office, Fishbein said his client was bipolar and schizophrenic. A judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation. No plea was entered; Hernandez will be held without bail. Crime scene investigators have now gone to the building that once housed the bodega in New York's Soho neighborhood, where Hernandez worked. But there's no body and given 33 years, as NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said yesterday, it's doubtful they will find physical evidence.

David Rudovsky is a criminal defense attorney based in Philadelphia, who says there are other questions.

DAVID RUDOVSKY: Thirty-three years later, we have no idea about this person's mental state. We don't know anything about the circumstances of his - what I'll call a confession to the police; that's what they're saying it was. We just don't know enough.

ADLER: Some courts say a confession is not enough; you have to have proof that the victim is dead. But in New York state, there is no legal requirement to have a body. But you have to have some kind of corroboration. As for the confession, says Rudovsky...

RUDOVSKY: Do we think this was really voluntary and truthful? And, you know, it's not unheard of for people to make things up. There have been false confessions. We know that from the DNA revolution. In almost 25 percent of the DNA exonerations, a suspect falsely confessed.

ADLER: Police say Hernandez has not given a motive for the killing. Ron Kuby, a criminal defense and civil rights attorney in New York, says you don't legally need a motive, but people want one.

RON KUBY: It doesn't add up that this random, motive-less, incredibly vicious killing would be committed by this man, and this would be the only blot on his otherwise perfect record.

ADLER: There also has to be more corroboration than simply a relative or friend saying Hernandez once said he killed a child in New York. Clearly, we are at the beginning of an intense investigation by police and prosecutors, to answer all of these questions.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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