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Etan Patz's Accused Killer Hires World Renowned Expert in False Confessions

By Andrea Swalec | December 13, 2012 7:09am

MANHATTAN CRIMINAL COURT — The legal team defending the accused killer of 6-year-old Etan Patz has been joined by an internationally renowned expert in false confessions.

In an attempt to prove that Pedro Hernandez's account of abducting and strangling Etan was coerced, British-based forensic psychologist Gisli Gudjonsson has been recruited, attorney Harvey Fishbein said.

"He's the most competent," Fishbein said. "He's on board and he's already written a report."

Gudjonsson, an Iceland native and professor emeritus at King's College London, is the creator of the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scales, which measure how factors like low IQ and a high desire to please people contribute to a person's likeliness of making a false confession.

He is credited with helping overturn life sentences handed down in the 1970s to men accused of being Irish terrorists who bombed pubs in England. One of those cases, known as the "Guildford Four," was turned into the movie "In The Name of the Father," which starred Daniel Day Lewis.

In June 2011, he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire, a high honor in the United Kingdom, in recognition of his work.

Fishbein said he hoped Gudjonsson, who did not immediately respond to calls from DNAinfo New York, could help prove that Hernandez's confession should be deemed invalid.

"Statements that were taken under improper circumstances are inadmissible and that's what happened here," Fishbein said, adding he believed his client had been interrogated for "six or seven hours."

Hernandez pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and a kidnapping charge before Judge Michael Sonberg Wednesday afternoon, speaking the words without hesitation.

Etan, whose family still lives on Prince Street, disappeared on May 25, 1979, the first day he was allowed to walk to the school bus by himself.

A lengthy police investigation proved inconclusive. In 2001, the child was declared dead, even though his body was never found.

This May, Hernandez, a 52-year-old husband and father of two with no criminal record, became the centerpiece of the reopened investigation when authorities received a tip from a family member.

Hernandez, who was 19 at the time of Etan's disappearance, told investigators he lured Etan into the basement of the West Broadway bodega where he worked with the promise of a soda, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at a press conference in May.

Hernandez said he choked the child and put his body in a plastic bag, which he left on the street, police said.

Fishbein said hallucinations and an IQ in the "borderline-to-mild mental retardation range" contributed to this confession.

Hernandez is due back in court Jan. 30, when he will hear if a judge has accepted Fishbein's request to review grand jury minutes.