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New Jersey man indicted for murder in Etan Patz case

A copy photo of the original missing poster of Etan Patz is shown during a news conference near a New York City apartment building, where po
A copy photo of the original missing poster of Etan Patz is shown during a news conference near a New York City apartment building, where po

By Karen Freifeld

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The man who confessed to the 1979 killing of 6-year-old Etan Patz was indicted on Wednesday for the child's kidnapping and murder, according to a court document.

A state grand jury charged Pedro Hernandez, 51, with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree kidnapping, the indictment said.

Hernandez was expected to be arraigned on Thursday in state Supreme Court, said Erin Duggan, spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.

Patz's disappearance on May 25, 1979, on his first walk alone to the school bus stop, drew national attention. He was one of the first missing children whose face appeared on a milk carton as part of an appeal for information from the public.

Three decades later, Hernandez confessed in May to luring the boy and strangling him. He had worked at a deli near the Patz home in New York's Soho neighborhood in the late 1970s before moving to New Jersey.

"We believe the evidence that Mr. Hernandez killed Etan Patz to be credible and persuasive and that his statements are not the product of any mental illness," Duggan said.

Hernandez's lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, said his client suffers from schizophrenia and his mental illness prompted his statement to police. He said there is no other evidence against his client.

"The statements alleged by the (prosecution) are not supported by any evidence whatsoever despite extraordinary investigative efforts by the police back then and now," Fishbein said in an email statement to Reuters.

His client suffers hallucinations and "has an IQ in the borderline-to-mild mental retardation range," Fishbein said.

The mystery surrounding Patz's decades-long disappearance, which changed the way authorities respond to missing children reports, will not be solved by putting his client on trial, Fishbein said.

"Nothing that occurs in the course of this trial will answer what actually happened to Etan Patz," Fishbein said.

For years, another man, Jose Ramos, a friend of Patz's babysitter, was the prime suspect in the case, although he was never criminally charged. Ramos was found liable for Patz's death in a 2004 civil case.

Ramos, 69, was recently released from a Pennsylvania prison after serving 20 years for molesting children but was immediately rearrested pending other charges.

(Reporting by Karen Freifeld; Writing By Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Bill Trott)

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