MANHATTAN (CN) - Pedro Hernandez's daughter testified that her father made a nonsensical confession to her at the police station the same day he told detectives that he killed Etan Patz, as the defense case kicked off Monday.
Patz's 1979 disappearance made history when the 6-year-old's face became the first to appear on milk cartons, but his case went cold for decades until the late evening of May 23, 2012.
Hernandez claimed responsibility for Patz's murder that night, but his lawyers now say the confession came after several hours of suggestive questioning.
A psychiatrist seemed to corroborate video footage of that police confession in testifying during the prosecution's case that Hernandez admitted the alleged murder when she spoke to him later at Rikers Island.
Patz's body was never found, however, and the ongoing prosecution of Hernandez in Manhattan Supreme Court relies primarily on those confessions.
On Monday, the suspect's 25-year-old daughter Becky Hernandez told a jury that her father also told her at the police precinct that day about killing "the little boy." She said his account of the murder made no sense.
"Well, we went to the basement," the daughter recounted him saying. "I choked him. And then I cut him up into little pieces. I put him in a bag. He was still breathing, and I put the bag in a box. And then I put him in an alley."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon pointed out that this narrative has the boy breathing after being cut up into "little pieces."
"Does that make sense?" Illuzzi-Orbon asked.
"No," the daughter replied.
Illuzzi-Orbon pressed the daughter to agree that her father said that he choked, but never cut up, the boy, an account in line with the other confessions.
Holding firm, the daughter replied: "No, I know what I heard."
Hernandez's attorney Harvey Fishbein said an upcoming defense witness, Columbia University psychiatrist Michael First, intends to diagnose Hernandez with schizotypal personality disorder, a condition on the schizophrenia spectrum.
Illuzzi-Orbon meanwhile raised objections from the defense in attacking the daughter's credibility by depicting Hernandez as an "abusive" and "controlling" father.
Ms. Hernandez never appeared to make eye contact with her father as she acknowledged that he never allowed her to be alone in the house until she was 20 years old. She said that her father let her boyfriend visit the house only twice a week, on specified weekdays, with advanced notice.
They were also allowed to go to church together, she added.
Speaking of such conditions, Illuzzi-Orbon asked: "You knew [your father's] behavior was abusive?"
"Yes," the daughter replied, after a judge overruled an objection from the defense table.
Ms. Hernandez appeared to walk back from this statement later during the examination.
When asked if her father still controls her, the daughter replied: "It's not control."
"To him, it's protection," she added.
Illuzzi-Orbon pointedly asked how it appeared "to you."
"To me, I see it as protection," she insisted.
Though the daughter had said her father did not socialize, Illuzzi-Orbon tried to undermine that point with home videos of Mr. Hernandez chatting at a Christmas party and a baptism of a family friend.
The defense's case will continue on Tuesday morning.