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Second Etan Patz Case Juror Had 'Improper Information,' Defense Lawyers Say

By Irene Plagianos | March 31, 2017 5:45pm | Updated on April 3, 2017 8:45am
 Pedro Hernandez (right) was convicted of killing 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979.
Pedro Hernandez (right) was convicted of killing 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979.
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Stan Patz/ Steven Hirsch

LOWER MANHATTAN — Lawyers for Pedro Hernandez, the former SoHo bodega worker convicted in a retrial last month of killing 6-year-old Etan Patz, have found a juror to bolster their claim of jury contamination, which they hope will overturn Hernandez's guilty verdict.

Cateryn Kiernan, Juror #2 in the retrial, said she was informed that jurors from Hernandez's first trial were sitting with Etan's father, Stan Patz, during the retrial — something she was "shocked" to learn, according to court papers filed by Hernandez's defense team Friday afternoon.

Kiernan is the first deliberating juror to tell defense investigators that she was made aware of the previous jurors.  

Lawyers were not allowed to refer to the first trial, which ended in a hung jury in 2015, during Hernandez's second trial. 

While jurors might have known that there was a first trial, Hernandez's lawyers argue that knowing about the presence of previous jurors — several of whom have become vocal advocates of Hernandez's guilt — could sway a juror's opinion. 

"In this highly emotional case, the presence of the jurors from the first trial and their close and obvious relationship with Stanley Patz and the Patz family during the second trial conveyed the message that they believed in Mr. Hernandez's guilt," defense lawyers wrote in court papers. "This information deprived Mr. Hernandez of a fair trial."

Hernandez's lawyers started an investigation into jury contamination in February, after DNAinfo New York and Newsday reported that retrial juror Michael Castellon, interviewed after Hernandez's conviction on Feb. 14 said court officers made him aware that jurors from the first trial were attending the second trial.

Castellon declined to talk to Hernandez's lawyers' investigators.

Earlier in the month, defense lawyers filed a motion asking Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Maxwell Riley, who has proceeded over both trials, to throw out Hernandez's guilty verdict based on juror contamination, based on what DNAinfo and Newsday reported as well as similar statements made by an alternate juror, who was not part of the final deliberations over Hernandez's guilt.

Kiernan told investigators that she was made aware earlier in the trial that the previous jurors were attending, though she didn't remember by whom, saying it could have been a friend.

But later in the trial, perhaps even during deliberations, she was told specifically that the people sitting by Stan Patz were in fact the previous jurors, people she had thought during the trial were family members.

She said that "baffled" and "shocked" her. She also couldn't remember if that was told to her by court officers or another juror, but she said the jurors had become friends with the court officers.

Prosecutors dismissed the defense's claims in their response to the court, saying that Hernandez still had a fair trial.

The judge is expected to rule on the motion in early April.

Lawyers for Hernandez, a father of three from New Jersey with no prior criminal record, argued that their client suffers from delusions and a low I.Q., and that his confessions were coerced by police.

Etan Patz, who disappeared in 1979 after he was allowed to walk less than two blocks to his Prince Street bus stop by himself for the first time, was never found. He was declared dead in 2001.

Hernandez has been in jail since his 2012 arrest, after a relative contacted police, saying Hernandez had confessed many years earlier to hurting a young boy. 

In several hours of taped confessions to authorities, Hernandez described strangling a small boy, then placing his limp body in a garbage bag and throwing him on a nearby trash heap.