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Accused Etan Patz Killer 'Odd, Limited, Innocent' Lawyer Says In Closings

By Irene Plagianos | January 30, 2017 6:18pm
 Pedro Hernandez (right) is accused of killing 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979.
Pedro Hernandez (right) is accused of killing 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979.
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Stan Patz/ Steven Hirsch

MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT —  Pedro Hernandez, the accused killer of 6-year-old Etan Patz, is delusional, odd and mentally limited — but he is not the murderer of the SoHo boy who went missing in 1979, defense lawyers argued for the last time Monday.

During his hours-long closing argument, defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein tried one last time to convince jurors that another man, convicted child-molester Jose Ramos, was at fault for the child's death.

"Ramos is a predator, Ramos is a pedophile and has a predilection for young, white, blue eyed boys," Fishbein said of the former boyfriend of a sometimes babysitter for Etan. "Ramos is a serial pedophile with the motive, the means and the opportunity to make Etan Patz his victim." 

Ramos molested the son of Etan's babysitter, Fishbein said — a little blond boy who looked much like Etan. During the three month retrial, defense showed photos of the son and Etan side-by-side.

Hernandez, 56, is standing trial for a second time, charged with strangling Etan in the basement of a SoHo bodega in 1979. 

Hernandez's first trial ended in a hung jury in May 2015, after 18 days of deliberations, when a lone holdout juror refused to convict the 55-year-old man in the boy’s death, saying he felt there wasn’t enough evidence to find him guilty.

At the heart of the prosecutors’ case against Hernandez are hours of taped confessions in which Hernandez calmly describes strangling the small boy on Prince Street, then stuffing his lifeless body into a trash bag and throwing him onto a pile of trash a couple of blocks away.

Defense attorneys say those confessions were false stories coerced by law enforcement officials and the delusions of a man who takes anti-psychotic medications.

They also say evidence much more strongly points to Ramos, currently in jail in Pennsylvania on molestation charges. He has denied being the killer.

Fishbein implored jurors to separate emotion from fact in this trial, because it was easy to get caught up in the outrage behind the devastating case. Etan became national news when the little boy went missing walking less than two blocks to his SoHo bus stop. It was his first time making the trip alone.

He asked the jury to consider that there was never any physical evidence unearthed since the boy went missing on May 25, 1979, and that the prosecution had failed to produce any evidence that corroborated Patz’s confession.

The reality of who Hernandez is does not mesh with the picture that the prosecution has been trying to paint of him as a cunning child killer, Fishbein said. His client, instead, had a low IQ, was easily confused and suffered from a long history of mental health problems.

His confessions, Hernandez said, have been inconsistent, and insisted that jurors, as per the judge's instructions, cannot convict Hernandez on his words alone. "He's unreliable," Fishbien said.

Hernandez, who was 18 years old at the time of the crime, worked in a bodega on Prince Street frequented by neighborhood families, including Etan's. Prosecutors allege that Hernandez had killed the boy after sexually abusing him.

In 2001, the boy was declared dead, even though his body was never found.

In May 2012, Hernandez, a husband and father of three, was arrested for Etan's murder after a relative contacted police. He's been in jail ever since.

The prosecution is set to begin their closing arguments Tuesday morning.