MANHATTAN (CN) – With deliberations about to hit the one-month mark, a third deadlocked-jury announcement Friday led a judge declare the Etan Patz murder case a mistrial.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley had already told the jury twice to get back to work, but he threw in the towel Friday after they had again failed to make any headway.
When 6-year-old Patz disappeared in 1979, he became the first child to appear on milk cartons across the nation.
Nobody ever found Patz’s body or belongings, but New Jersey resident Pedro Hernandez has faced a months-long trial on the crime.
Though New York’s initial suspect, Jose Ramos, gave a jailhouse confession to the Patz murder, the investigation into him went cold for lack of federal jurisdiction for a crime that occurred in his hometown of New York.
Ramos is spending life in prison for repeatedly crossing state lines in his spree of raping young boys, but New Jersey police got a tip in early 2012 that Hernandez had come forward as the killer.
After a 7.5-hour interrogation, Hernandez told a story that he already had shared with multiple acquaintances – that he killed a little boy in the basement of a store where he used to work in lower Manhattan.
Hernandez kept on reporting the crime to police and his jailhouse psychiatrist, but defense attorney Harvey Fishbein said that his client’s memory should not be trusted.
With an IQ of 70 and a schizophrenia-related diagnosis, Hernandez may have been hallucinating his crimes, or his feeble mind may have cracked under the weight of coercive questioning, Fishbein said.
The attorney practically dared Vance to prosecute again after the mistrial announcement Friday.
“If the New York County District Attorney’s office chooses to continue to pursue this case, we are ready,” Fishbein said in an email.
At trial, the defense team retained Icelandic professor Gísli Hannes Guðjónsson, an authority on false confessions, to lend his weight to the argument that Hernandez’s crimes only existed in his imagination.
Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon argued for the state, saying that Hernandez’s mental condition was a ruse created for the press.
He noted that the Rikers Island prison recorded Hernandez telling his wife on the phone that newspapers printed “some crap” about him being “delusional.”
Though he had hoped for a different outcome, District Attorney Cyrus Vance thanked the jury for its service.
“We believe there is clear and corroborated evidence of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Vance said in a statement. “The challenges in this case were exacerbated by the passage of time, but they should not, and did not, deter us.”
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