(NEW YORK) — A New Jersey man has been indicted for the 1979 kidnapping and killing of 6-year-old New York City boy Etan Patz whose disappearance spawned National Missing Children’s Day and put photos of missing kids on milk cartons.
Pedro Hernandez, now 51, was in his teens and working as a stock clerk in a convenience store where, he later told police, he lured Patz with the promise of a soda before he choked the boy and threw his body in the trash.
“This indictment is the outcome of a lengthy and deliberative process, involving months of factual investigation and legal analysis,” said Erin Duggan, spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.
“We believe the evidence that Mr. Hernandez killed Etan Patz to be credible and persuasive, and that his statements are not the product of any mental illness. The grand jury has found sufficient evidence to charge the defendant and this is a case that we believe should be presented to a jury at trial,” Duggan said.
Harvey Fishbein, the attorney for Hernandez, said his client is a schizophrenic whose statements to police are not reliable.
“The statements alleged by the People are not supported by any evidence whatsoever despite extraordinary investigative efforts by the police back then and now,” Fishbein said.
In May, New York City detectives arrested Hernandez and announced at a press conference that Hernandez had implicated himself in the Patz disappearance.
A hunt for forensic evidence was launched to back up those admissions of guilt. Sources tell ABC News little in the way of new evidence has arisen.
As a result, a key factor in any prosecution will be Hernandez’s current and historical admissions of guilt, and the fact that he was present in the neighborhood where Patz disappeared May 24, 1979.
Hernandez was not a suspect in the initial investigation, which soon hit a wall. At a certain point the case became virtually dormant and wound up in the hands of the Police Department missing persons unit until an Assistant U.S. Attorney named Stuart GraBois, working for then Manhattan U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani took an interest in 1985 and requested the ability to investigate.
Over the course of a long and wide ranging investigation GraBois traveled as far as Israel and went to lengths that included using a psychic in his quest for the killer of the child. A number of potential suspects were identified and ruled out, and a number of persons in their teens who resembled Patz were investigated in the hope of finding the boy alive, and they were also ruled out.
GraBois, who is known for his tenacity and integrity, eventually hit upon Pedro Ramos, now a convicted sex offender as a result of other crimes against children.
Ramos, according to GraBois, told him that he took a boy back to his apartment on the day of Patz disappearance who closely resembled the youth. He told GraBois that he was almost certain it was Patz. This information and what might amount to a partial confession by Ramos to authorities at the time will almost certainly be used by Hernandez’s attorney in an effort to create reasonable doubt in the mind of jurors.
Hernandez is due in court Thursday.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ray Sanchez, CNN Newswire
Chuck Johnston, CNN Newswire