Thirty-five years after Etan Patz’s disappearance helped ignite a national missing-children’s movement, scores of prospective jurors filed into court Monday for a murder trial that eluded authorities for decades.
About 100 people began filling out lengthy jury questionnaires for the trial of Pedro Hernandez, who became a suspect less than three years ago in the 1979 case. Hernandez admitted killing 6-year-old Etan, but his defense says his confession is false and he wasn’t involved in the boy’s disappearance.
Hernandez, 53, faced potential jurors impassively when asked to do so, as a judge introduced a case he acknowledged might already be familiar.
“The publicity surrounding this case is, I would say, unprecedented,” Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley said. But he noted that being aware of the case won’t necessarily disqualify potential jurors if they vouch that they can decide the case impartially and based on court evidence alone.
The jury questionnaire asks prospective jurors about their knowledge of the case and over 130 people who might testify or be mentioned, Wiley said.
Jury selection will likely take days. The trial could last three months.