While a judge weighs whether a murder confession in one of the nation’s most notorious missing child cases can be used at the suspect’s trial, a larger question is looming: Was it all made up?
Pedro Hernandez is seen in hours of videotaped statements telling the same unnerving story: How he was a teenage stock boy at a Manhattan convenience store in 1979 when Etan Patz went missing. How he spotted the 6-year-old boy walking to his school bus stop. How he offered him a soda to lure him into a basement. How he killed him, almost uncontrollably.
“I wanted to let go, but I just couldn’t let go,” he says. “I felt like something just took over me. I don’t know what to say.”
His lawyer says the confession is bogus, the result of a mentally ill man who may have been broken down by hours of interrogation that was not caught on tape.
Experts say the 53-year-old Hernandez, who has the IQ of someone with an intellectual disability in addition to a history of mental illness, could be more likely to falsely confess.
Police interrogated Hernandez for nearly eight hours without recording it and prosecutors have pointed to no physical evidence despite repeated searches of his home and the area where he said the crime occurred. And until his name surfaced, a convict had been widely considered the prime suspect.
But prosecutors stand by the confession. Hernandez — arrested in 2012 after a family member tipped off authorities — admitted three other times in the past three decades that he had killed a child; once to his ex-wife, once to a neighbor and once to a prayer group.
New York City police Detective David Ramirez, who arrested Hernandez, says the suspect felt relieved after finally confessing, and officials say he knows details only the killer would know.
“He said he did it. He was crying, he was weeping,” Ramirez said. “We were all taken aback by it, of course.”