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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Manhattan Prosecutor Rips Ex-Fed as Patz Case Wraps

MANHATTAN (CN) - With the case of the alleged killer of 6-year-old Etan Patz heading for deliberations, jurors will likely argue over which prosecutor got the case right: the one working for the Big Apple or the one who used to serve Uncle Sam.

Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon spent a full day in court on Wednesday trying to convince the jurors to convict Pedro Hernandez for the crime. She devoted a large section of her closing arguments to attacking the opinion of ex-prosecutor Stuart GraBois that another man committed the crime.

Hernandez's attorney Harvey Fishbein spent much of his defense summations on Monday laying the crime at the feet of Jose Ramos, who is currently locked up for life for child molestation.

Both men repeatedly confessed to the Patz murder, and there is no forensic evidence tying either man to the crime.

Authorities never discovered Patz's body or retrieved his book bag after he disappeared in 1979.

Sparking the missing child's movement, Patz's face became the first to appear on milk cartons across on the United States.

GraBois and other federal prosecutors spent years trying to pin the Patz murder on the list of crimes that Ramos committed against children, but their case went cold for lack of federal jurisdiction.

While Ramos crossed state lines to commit other crimes against children, the Patz murder occurred in his hometown of New York.

Illuzzi told the jury that blaming Ramos for the Patz murder had problems other than jurisdiction, and she painted GraBois as an "adverse, defensive, evasive, angry" witness trying to protect a mistaken theory of the case.

Mocking a defense slideshow of the alternate suspect, Illuzzi acknowledged that a mugshot the defense showed the jury of Ramos depicted him as a "despicable pedophile" who also appears to be a "creepy guy."

With his long, scraggly beard and a droopy face, Ramos looked like a "witch or warlock," Illuzzi quipped.

Ramos is also a physical foil to the bald and clean-shaven Hernandez, who has no prior criminal record, an IQ of 70 and a diagnosis of a mental disorder on the schizophrenia spectrum.

Defense attorneys contend that 7.5 hours of interrogation caused Hernandez's feeble mind to buckle into admitting to a crime that only existed in his imagination.

Calling this nothing more than a legal strategy, Illuzzi showed the jury transcripts of Hernandez telling his wife from jail about "some crap" a newspaper printed that he was being "delusional" in a conversation about paying his lawyer.

Illuzzi said that other prison phone calls revealed Hernandez to be controlling and abusive toward his daughter, who testified in his defense.

When Hernandez asked his wife to stop their daughter from going to an amusement park his wife replied, "Pedro, I can't say no, because you know she's 24 years old," according to the transcript.

"Yeah, but, however it is, you have to, however it is, you have to be careful with this girl," Hernandez replied.

Illuzzi also showed the jury a video of Hernandez appearing relaxed as he showed police what he claimed to be the scene of the crime.

As for Ramos, Illuzzi described his alleged jailhouse confession as the product of an overzealous prosecutor and his untrustworthy informants.

She described one of those informants, Jeffrey Rothschild, as a con man who ripped off evacuees of Hurricane Katrina seeking shelter in the Superdome. Rothschild was a "scum of the earth" seeking his self-interest by nabbing "another very high-profile criminal," she added.

She said that another informant sought - and received - assistance from the U.S. Attorney's office in helping his elderly mother collect payment from a tenant.

After GraBois told that tenant that his office would help represent his landlord, a criminal investigation into the tenant's finances ended with the man committing suicide, Illuzzi said.

She ridiculed testimony by GraBois that the man "left" after their conversation.

"He 'left'?" Illuzzi asked sarcastically. "He left in a bag."

Although she insisted her remarks "were not about, in any way, besmirching Stuart GraBois," the summations left a different impression than her disclaimer.

The New York Daily News reported that Illuzzi's tense cross-examination of GraBois last month devolved into a "shouting match."

"Did you see how that man spoke to me in a court of law?" Illuzzi asked, referring to this incident.

Apparently suggesting that GraBois may have strong-armed the Ramos confession, Illuzzi asked: "Can you imagine how that man spoke to a despicable pedophile handcuffed to a chair in his office?"

Fishbein defended GraBois on Monday as a "fierce, committed prosecutor," whose instincts were backed by the leading lights of the federal bar, including the FBI's first female special agent in charge Mary Galligan.

Illuzzi countered that Galligan had been a "rookie agent" at the time of the Ramos investigation.

The Patz family, however, had been so put off by the GraBois investigation that they wrote former Mayor Rudy Giuliani to ask him to put an end to it, Illuzzi said.

She ended her summations by returning to the videotaped remarks of the man she was prosecuting: Hernandez.

"I did it," Hernandez said softly in this tape. "I can't explain why I did it. I tried to stop, but I couldn't stop. My legs were jumping. I was nervous. I did it. I'm sorry I did it."

On Wednesday, the jury will start deliberating whether or not to believe him.

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