Etan Patz Case: a Tale of Two Confessions, Defense Says | Courthouse News Service
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Etan Patz Case: a Tale of Two Confessions, Defense Says

MANHATTAN (CN) - Two suspects have confessed to the decades-old murder of 6-year-old Etan Patz, whose case launched the missing-child movement in the United States.

Prosecutors believe that Pedro Hernandez is their man, but Hernandez's defense attorney told a jury in daylong closing arguments Monday that they looked to him because the likely killer is already locked up for life for child molestation.

When Patz disappeared in 1979, he became the first boy to appear on milk cartons across the nation. A child molester by the name of Jose Ramos was suspected early, and he told a jailhouse informant that he committed the crime before the case went cold.

It heated up again in the late evening of May 23, 2012, as police interrogated Hernandez for roughly seven and a half hours about his alleged role in the crime.

In addition to the police tipster who had heard Hernandez claim responsibility for it, prosecutors brought the case to trial with other people who heard his supposed confessions.

After 10 weeks of testimony, Hernandez's attorney Harvey Fishbein told a jury Monday that this is a case of "two confessions."

"Both cannot be true," he noted, before asking the jury: "Which person is more likely to have been the predator?"

The defense's case paints Hernandez as a mentally challenged individual with schizotypal personality disorder, a condition described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as being on the schizophrenia spectrum.

With an IQ of 70, Hernandez suffered from hallucinations and cracked under the weight of suggested questioning, the defense says.

Their key psychological expert, Gísli Hannes Guðjónsson, is an Icelandic professor viewed as an authority in false confessions for creating the so-called Gudjonsson suggestibility scale, which measures how likely someone would be to fold under coercive questioning.

Fishbein cautioned the jury to be question the word "confession."

"Every time you hear the word 'confession,' substitute the word 'story,'" he suggested.

Hernandez's presumption of innocence gives the prosecution "the burden to prove the story true," he added.

The prosecution attributes Hernandez's hallucinations to drug use rather than schizotypal personality disorder.

Their evidence showed that Hernandez once spent $100 to $300 per week on cocaine.

Breaking down the lower range of that figure, Fishbein said that this showed his client spending $20 per day for one hit of the drug. This would not be enough to explain the hallucinations that defense psychologists observed, he said.

"It's not great," Fishbein acknowledged. "But it's not a raging cocaine addict who gets high all the time."

Ramos, on the other hand, is a convicted pedophile long considered the prime suspect in the Patz murder, Fishbein said.

One of the prosecutors who pursued Ramos - retired federal prosecutor Stuart GraBois - appeared as a defense witness for Hernandez.

Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon attacked the tactics that GraBois used during his investigation, such as following a lead by a clairvoyant, the New York Daily News reported.

But Fishbein insisted that GraBois was no outlier, and his investigation was also supported by prosecutor Mary Galligan, who later became the FBI's first female special agent in charge.

Galligan was one of the on-scene commanders in the investigation of the case of the U.S.S. Cole, a Navy warship bombed off the coast of Yemen.

Calling GraBois a "fierce, committed prosecutor," Fishbein said that he is the reason Ramos is now in jail.

"That son of a bitch went to jail for the rest of his life, where he belongs," Fishbein thundered.

Stating that "justice has been done, as far as Ramos is concerned," the lawyer added: "There's also the need for resolution for the Hernandez family."

The prosecution will present its closing arguments on Tuesday.

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