NEW YORK — A man has been convicted in one of the nation’s most haunting missing-child cases, nearly 38 years after 6-year-old Etan Patz disappeared in New York City.
Pedro Hernandez showed no reaction as jurors delivered their verdict Tuesday. Another jury deliberated for 18 days before deadlocking in 2015.
This time, jurors deliberated over nine days before finding the 56-year-old guilty of murder during a kidnapping in a case that shaped both parenting and law enforcement in the United States.
Some of the jurors from the first trial attended the second one, and several of them wept Tuesday as the verdict was read. Speaking afterwards, Etan’s father, Stan Patz, said “It’s about time.”
“The Patz family has waited a long time but we finally have found some measure of justice for our wonderful little boy Etan,” Stan Patz said. “I’m really grateful, really grateful that this jury finally came back with what I have known for a long time: That this man, Pedro Hernandez, is guilty of doing something really terrible so many years ago.”
“I needed to know what happened to my son and this great prosecution team finally proved it,” he said.
The current jury’s foreman, Thomas S. Hoscheid, said deliberations had been difficult, but “we had constructive conversations, based in logic, that were analytical and creative and adaptive, and compassionate.
“And, ultimately, kind of heartbreaking,” he said.
In a statement, District Attorney Cy Vance said Etan’s case “will no longer be remembered as one of the city’s oldest and most painful unsolved crimes.”
“The disappearance of Etan Patz haunted families in New York and across the country for nearly four decades,” Vance said. “Etan’s legacy will endure through his family’s long history of advocacy on behalf of missing children. However, it is my hope that today’s verdict provides the Patz family with the closure they so desperately deserve.”
DA Vance on the conviction of Pedro Hernandez for the murder of Etan Patz: pic.twitter.com/nUCL4UynHl
— Cyrus Vance, Jr. (@ManhattanDA) February 14, 2017
Hernandez’s lead lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, said he would appeal.
“In the end, we don’t believe this will resolve the story of what happened to Etan back in 1979,” Fishbein said.
Hernandez was a convenience store clerk in Etan’s neighborhood in SoHo when the first-grader disappeared in May of 1979. Etan became one of the first missing children ever pictured on milk cartons.
A relative of Hernandez called police after the case made news in 2012 when federal agents dug up a basement looking for evidence. Police arrested him and authorities said he confessed to choking the boy.
Defense lawyers and doctors portrayed Hernandez as a man with psychological problems and intellectual limitations that made him struggle to tell reality from fantasy and made him susceptible to confessing falsely after more than six hours of questioning before recording began.
His daughter testified that he talked about seeing visions of angels and demons and once watered a dead tree branch, believing it would grow.
“Pedro Hernandez is an odd, limited and vulnerable man,” defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein said in his closing argument. “Pedro Hernandez is an innocent man.”
Prosecutors have suggested Hernandez faked or exaggerated his symptoms.
Defense lawyers also pointed to a different man who was long the prime suspect, a convicted Pennsylvania child molester who made incriminating remarks about Etan’s case in the 1990s and who had dated a woman acquainted with the Patzes.
He was never charged and denies killing Etan.