Mistrial Declared in 1979 Case of Missing Boy Etan Patz


The murder trial of a man accused in the 1979 disappearance of first-grader Etan Patz ended Friday in a hung jury, leaving one of the nation’s most wrenching missing-children cases still unresolved after nearly two generations.

After 18 days of deliberating, jurors said for a third time that they were hopelessly deadlocked — 11-1, in favor of conviction — in the case against Pedro Hernandez. The judge declared a mistrial as Hernandez sat impassively.

The New Jersey man was a teenage stock clerk at a Manhattan convenience store near where 6-year-old Etan vanished May 25, 1979. He would become one of the first missing children ever pictured on milk cartons.

Prosecutors immediately asked to set a new June 10 trial date in the case, which frustrated authorities for decades before a tip led them to Hernandez and he confessed in 2012. His lawyers said the confession was false and concocted by mental illness.

The mistrial left Etan’s parents, who became national advocates for the cause of missing children, to await another trial.

“We are frustrated and very disappointed the jury has been unable to make a decision. The long ordeal is not over,” said his father, Stanley Patz, in a rare press briefing. But, he added, “I think we have closure already.”

He tried for years to bring an earlier suspect to account for Etan’s death, but after the trial, he said: “I am so convinced Pedro Hernandez kidnapped and killed my son. … His story is simple, and it makes sense.”

Several jurors said they found Hernandez’s confession compellingly detailed and buttressed by admissions he’d made to friends and relatives years before, and those jurors said they felt his mental problems were the result of a guilty conscience.

“Pedro Hernandez, you know what you did,” said forewoman Alia Dahhan, who works in the arts.

However, a lone holdout, Adam Sirois, a health care consultant said he felt Hernandez’s mental health history was “a huge part of this case.”

The Patzes, meanwhile, never moved or changed their phone number, for years, wondering whether there was a chance their missing boy might call.

“Etan was a beautiful, outgoing, curious little kid,” his father said Friday. “He would have made a great adult.”