MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — A judge declared a mistrial Friday in the 36-year-old murder case of 6-year-old Etan Patz after a jury was deadlocked by a lone juror holding out to acquit Pedro Hernandez, who had confessed to the crime.
Juror 11, Adam Sirois, said that he was not convinced of the confessions of the defendant, who has a history of mental health problems.
"Ultimately, I could not find enough evidence that wasn't circumstantial," Sirois said. "I couldn't convict."
The mistrial comes after 18 days of deliberations, and an emotional 10-week trial.
Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Maxwell Wiley set a date for June 10, so that the Manhattan District Attorney's office can decide whether or not to try Hernandez again.
"The challenges of this case were exacerbated by the passage of time, but they should not, and did not, deter us," District Attorney Cyrus Vance said.
The judge first sent jurors back into deliberations last week, after they told him they were deadlocked. Wiley sent them back to decide the case again after they returned without a verdict on Tuesday.
The jury told Wiley once more that they were unable to reach a verdict just before 3 p.m. on Friday.
The Hernandez family declined to comment as they left the courthouse after the decision.
The Patz family hurried into the courtroom after the verdict, greeted by the conciliatory hugs of friends.
The boy's father, Stan Patz, said that he was originally convinced that another man, convicted child molester Jose Ramos, was the killer. He said, however, that after sitting through the trial he became convinced the right man was on trial.
"I'm so convinced Pedro Hernandez kidnapped and killed my son," Patz said after the trial. "We are frustrated and very disappointed the jury has not been able to come to a decision. Pedro Hernandez is guilty of crimes to which he confessed beyond a reasonable doubt."
Hernandez's lawyer Harvey Fishbein said his client was relieved the case was over for now.
"Pedro is not a keen and cunning person," he said. "Pedro is a not someone who would spend 35 years avoiding prosecution. Pedro is not the kind of person who should be on trial in this case."
Fishbein said he would be ready if there is a retrial.
Etan vanished on May 25, 1979 without a trace after his parents let him walk less than two blocks alone from his SoHo home to a bus stop for the first time.
Hernandez, a husband and father of three from New Jersey with no criminal record, was arrested and charged in Patz's death in May 2012, after a relative contacted police and said he'd confessed to the crime.
He gave several hours of videotaped confessions to police, in which he described how he choked the child, placed his limp body in a plastic bag, threw him in a box and dumped him in a garbage heap a couple of blocks away.
After decades of searching, neither Etan's body, nor any other physical evidence, was ever discovered in the case. He was officially declared dead in 2001.
Defense attorneys argued vehemently that Hernandez had a low IQ, suffered from hallucinations and delusions and was an “unreliable” source. They claimed his confession to police were coerced. His attorneys' placed the blame for Etan's murder on Jose Ramos, a convicted child molester, now jailed in Pennsylvania, who dated Etan's babysitter.
Prosecutors, however, said there was never enough evidence to link Ramos to Etan's disappearance.
They, instead, tried to convince jurors that Hernandez was indeed telling the truth, though they acknowledged that the details of his confessions did not always match up. They painted a very different version of Hernandez, as someone who was calculating and manipulative.
Prosecutors said Hernandez had seen the little boy numerous times at the bodega where he worked, brought him down into the basement where he sexually abused him, then killed the boy to hide what he had done.
His mother testified early in the trial last month that her son was a "trusting" boy who she watched walk a block to his bus stop, and then never saw again.
Etan's disappearance nearly 36 years ago lead to a seachange in the way law enforcement handles missing children. May 25th, the day he vanished, has been named National Missing Children’s Day.
"The legacy [the Patz family] have built in the four decades since this tragedy occurred, both in raising awareness about the plight of missing children and through the creation of laws to protect them, has made our city, and our society, safer for children," Vance said.
Hernandez has remained in jail since his 2012 arrest.