Hernandez, a schizophrenic who suffers from delusions, was hit with two counts of murder and a kidnapping charge for allegedly snatching Patz off a SoHo street corner as the child made his way to school on May 25, 1979.
Prosecutors began presenting evidence to the grand jury earlier this month. Hernandez has been in police custody since he confessed to the 33-year-old crime earlier this year.
“This indictment is the outcome of a lengthy and deliberative process, involving months of factual investigation and legal analysis," Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney's office, said in a statement. "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.”
The centerpiece of the NYPD and prosecutors' case against the 52-year-old father of two is the hours-long confession he made to detectives immediately after they were tipped off to him by a relative. The relative said Hernandez talked about killing a child in New York City — about “doing something bad” — when he was a teenager and had been living with the guilt ever since.
When confronted by police, Hernandez talked about luring Etan with the promise of a soda into the basement of the SoHo bodega where he worked near the Thompson and Prince streets intersection where the child vanished.
Hernandez, then 18, said he acted on an “urge” when he strangled the youngster. He then calmly explained how he disposed of the boy's body, placing it into a black garbage bag, and then laying it inside a cardboard produce box, which he carried a block and left with other trash.
Sources said Hernandez also wrote the words “I killed him” on a photo of Etan that was shown to him by detectives from the Missing Persons and the Major Case Squad, several of whom had years of homicide experience in the Bronx.
In addition to Hernandez’s police confession and statements to his relatives, sources say investigators have located at least 10 other people, most of them belonging to various religious or spiritual organizations over the years with Hernandez, who said he made similar confessions and admissions to them.
“They have all heard the same type of story, that he did bad things when he was young, that he killed a child,” a law enforcement source said.
Prosecutors also say Hernandez showed signs of extreme agitation, anxiety and nervousness back in 1979 as the cops swarmed the neighborhood looking for clues — a pattern consistent with someone involved in a deadly crime and afraid of being caught.
In the weeks after Etan's disappearance, Hernandez moved out of SoHo — without any NYPD investigator ever questioning him or the bodega's owner. There was only a single mention of Hernandez’s name in a mountain of investigative documents, and the owner is now dead, "On The Inside" previously reported.
“On The Inside” also reported in August that investigators had also obtained information from Hernandez’s first wife that she found a photograph of Etan in her husband’s belongings in the mid-1980s that had been hidden for years.
“What is this?” she asked Hernandez, according to the law enforcement sources.
"You better put that away,” he barked back. And he said she should never touch it again. Cops never found the picture.
Investigators conducted hundreds of interviews, including talking with present and former detectives on the case, to see if they recalled speaking with Hernandez to jog memories. None did.
And a small mound of items, clothing and a computer seized from Hernandez’s home has turned up no smoking guns as well.
Hernandez spent weeks following his arrest in Bellevue Hospital undergoing psychological tests. He is bipolar and suffers from schizophrenia.
Detectives and prosecutors are absolutely convinced Hernandez killed Etan in a crime that forever changed the way America looked at missing children cases, "On the Inside" previously reported.
Hernandez' lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, insists that statements by his client are merely hallucinations that stem from his mental problems.
"Nothing that occurs in the course of this trial will answer what actually happened to Etan Patz," Fishbein said. "The indictment is based solely on statements allegedly made by my client, who has, in the past, been repeatedly diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, and who has, over the last six months, been found to suffer from schizotypal personality disorder, which is characterized by, among other things, unusual perceptual experiences, commonly referred to as hallucinations."
There is also the wild card of Jose Ramos, the convicted pedophile who a Manhattan civil court judge ruled about a decade ago is responsible for Etan’s death.
Ramos dated Patz’s girlfriend at the time of his disappearance and has made incriminating statements about Etan.