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New York jury in 1979 Patz murder case hears defense summation

By David Ingram

By David Ingram

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A defense lawyer told a New York City jury on Monday that police got the wrong man when they charged his client in the notorious 1979 disappearance of six-year-old Etan Patz, a case that raised alarms nationwide about the abduction of children.

Defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein began his closing argument in a state court where Pedro Hernandez, 56, is on trial for the second time for the murder of the boy who vanished in lower Manhattan 38 years ago. His first trial ended in a mistrial in 2015.

Evidence points to another suspect, Jose Ramos, who dated a friend of the Patz family and was later convicted of sex crimes in Pennsylvania, Fishbein said.

"Ramos is a serial pedophile with the motive, the means and the opportunity to make Etan Patz his victim," he said. He called Ramos "the face of a true pedophile."

Prosecutors are to address the jury on Tuesday. Jurors, who have heard testimony since October, could begin deliberating on Wednesday.

Patz vanished as he walked alone to a school bus stop in the SoHo neighborhood on May 25, 1979. His body was never found, despite a massive search.

His picture became one of the first to appear on milk cartons, which in the 1980s became a popular vehicle for seeking leads about missing children. His disappearance also helped bring about a national database about such cases.

"It's a cautionary tale, a defining moment, a loss of innocence in this city and in every city where it was written about," Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi said during an opening statement in October.

Jurors in the 2015 trial deliberated for 18 days without reaching a unanimous verdict, which is required for conviction. Eleven voted to convict, while one held out for acquittal.

A former delicatessen worker, Hernandez was arrested in 2012 after a tip. His brother-in-law told police Hernandez had confessed to a prayer group in the 1980s.

Hernandez, in a videotaped confession to police, said he lured Patz to the basement of the deli where he worked near the child's home, strangled him, placed the child's body in a garbage bag and a box, and dumped him in an alley.

He later recanted, and his attorneys argue he has a history of mental illness, including hallucinations, and that he falsely confessed under police coercion. He faces possible life in prison if convicted.

(Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Frank McGurty and Phil Berlowitz)