MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — The jury in the Etan Patz murder trial watched a three-hour confession video Tuesday where defendant Pedro Hernandez described in a slow soft voice how he choked the 6-year-old in 1979 in the basement of a SoHo bodega.
“I grabbed him by the neck and started choking him,” said Hernandez, 53, during the video that was taped two years ago in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. “I was nervous, my legs were jumping.”
“I wanted to let go, but I couldn’t,” he said. “I felt like something just took over me.”
More than once, he added, “I tried to stop, but I couldn’t.”
Since making his confession more than two years ago without a lawyer present, Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to the murder of the boy who went missing on May 25, 1979, on his way to school — and now stands trial in Manhattan Supreme Court.
The confession, first played during a pre-trial hearing in September, was shown for the first time to jurors in Hernandez’s trial Tuesday, and made available to the public.
Several witnesses have also testified that Hernandez has confessed to them over the years.
Harvey Fishbein, Hernandez's lawyer, argues that the videotaped confession was coerced and is false, and that his client suffers from a history of mental illness and delusions. On the tape, Hernandez also speaks of his schizophrenia and bi-polar disorders, as well as family abuse.
In the video, jurors watched Hernandez, in a quiet, high-pitched voice, state matter-of-factly that he saw the boy standing on the street, asked him if he wanted a soda, then took the boy into the basement of the West Broadway bodega and immediately began strangling him with his hands.
He said that even though the little boy went limp after a few moments of choking, he was still breathing and moving when he was put into a large garbage bag. Hernandez then placed the bag into a box and dumped it into an open basement along an alley a couple of blocks away.
He told the prosecutor that he wanted to suffocate the boy because he was “afraid of what I did,” and said he didn’t want the boy to tell anyone he’d choked him.
But Hernandez, who stands at one point on the video, showing how he wrapped his hands around Etan’s neck — and imitated the way the boy gasped for breath — said he didn’t have a reason for strangling the boy.
The taped confession at the Manhattan DA’s office came after Hernandez was first interrogated at a police station in Camden, N.J., for more than seven hours without being recorded.
He was then taken to Manhattan, to the site of the alleged murder, for further questioning, all before heading to the DA’s office for the confession — which lasted through the night, into the early hours of May 24, 2012.
During the video, at the questioning of the prosecutor, Hernandez touched on his history of mental illness as well as his alcoholic and abusive father. Hernandez, who came to New Jersey from Puerto Rico with his family when he was 12, only broke down crying once in the video, when he spoke of his father beating his mother.
Hernandez's stories often provided little detail on the tape. He had trouble recalling certain events and there were inconsistencies in his description of why he killed Etan.
Police have reportedly found little to no physical evidence to corroborate Hernandez's story. He's been in jail since his arrest in May 2012.
Etan, whose family still lives on Prince Street, disappeared 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.
Hernandez's trial is slated to last three months.