MANHATTAN (CN) — Nearly four decades after Etan Patz’s face became the first “missing child” ad on milk cartons, a jury convicted a deli shop clerk Tuesday as the perpetrator of New York’s most famous unsolved crime.
“The Patz family has waited a long time, but we finally did it,” the child’s father Stanley Patz told reporters after the verdict.
“We found some measure of justice for our wonderful little boy, Etan,” he continued. “I’m really grateful that this dream finally came down with what I’ve known for a long time: that this man is, Pedro Hernandez, is guilty of doing something really terrible so many years ago.”
Hernandez had been an 18-year-old clerk at a Soho bodega in 1979 when 6-year-old Patz disappeared from that area.
Though Hernandez claimed repeatedly to have committed the crime over the subsequent decades, the road to his eventual prosecutions would be slow and bumpy.
When police from Hernandez’s home of Maple Wood, New Jersey, caught wind of Hernandez’s confessions in 2012, they passed on the fruits of their interrogation across the river to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
Because the case rested on little more than Hernandez’s own words, however, the case stalled. Detectives never recovered Patz’s body, book bag or clothes, and Hernandez later insisted that his incriminating statements were false and delusional.
Hernandez’s went to trial in 2015 and again late last year after an initial mistrial. Before jurors returned a guilty verdict Tuesday after 10 days of deliberations, court watchers wondered if the book on Patz’s murdered would ever be closed.
With Hernandez convicted on all but one count, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance celebrated the resolution of a case that had long haunted his office.
“Bringing closure on Etan’s disappearance to the Patz family has also been among my highest priorities since I took office as District Attorney,” Vance said in a statement.
Hernandez’s last case ended in a mistrial because of one holdout on the 12-person jury.
The stumble in a high-profile case proved fatal at the polls for lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, who had been campaigning against Michael McMahon at the time to become Staten Island district attorney.
Patz’s father defended Illuzzi’s handling of the case, however, and the prosecutor spoke of her relationship with family Tuesday.
“I want to thank God that this jury has worked so hard to come to a just and truthful verdict for the Patz family, who have suffered so terribly for almost four decades,” Illuzzi said at the press conference. “I have to say that the Patz family has been nothing but kind and supportive of us throughout this entire process, which has been long and very, very tiresome.”
For Vance, today’s verdict resolves “all lasting doubt” that Hernandez committed the crime.
Hernandez’s attorney Harvey Fishbein has vowed to fight on.
“There is a very good chance there will be a third trial,” Fishbein told ABC News.
Fishbein has been consistent in describing his client’s case as the textbook example of false confessions. The jury heard testimony by psychologists for the defense about Hernandez’s had low intelligence, low-grade schizophrenia and suggestibility.
With an IQ of 70, Hernandez has less mental capability than 98 percent of the nation, and he has long taken antipsychotic medication to treat his diagnosed schizotypal personality disorder, Hernandez told a jury.
Vance said today’s verdict brings hope to other families who lost their children.
“Etan’s legacy will endure through his family’s long history of advocacy on behalf of missing children,” he said in a statement.