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NY prosecutor urges jury to accept recanted confession in six-year-old's 1979 death

By David Ingram

By David Ingram

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York prosecutor urged a jury on Tuesday to believe the videotaped confession of a man who told police he lured and killed six-year-old Etan Patz in 1979, though he later recanted the confession and claimed mental illness.

Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi said in her closing argument that the defendant, Pedro Hernandez, 56, had given details during the 2012 confession that only the killer could have known.

"He comes up with this detailed, intricate story that aligns itself perfectly with the method and manner of death," Illuzzi said.

A former delicatessen worker, Hernandez is on trial in state court for a second time for the alleged kidnapping and murder of Patz, who vanished in lower Manhattan 38 years ago in a case that grabbed national attention. The first proceedings ended in a mistrial in 2015.

One of Hernandez's lawyers told jurors during the defense's closing argument on Monday that his client has a history of mental illness, including hallucinations, and falsely confessed under police coercion.

"He's just inconsistent, he's just unreliable and he's the only witness against himself," lawyer Harvey Fishbein said.

Jurors, who have heard testimony since October, could begin deliberating on Wednesday.

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

Without physical evidence, the confession is the centerpiece of prosecutors' case. Illuzzi told jurors the confession was too elaborate to be a product of hallucinations, and she showed them a map of the deli and neighborhood that Hernandez drew for investigators.

"Do you think this looks like a fantasy? This is a delusion?" Illuzzi asked the court.

Hernandez told police in 2012 he lured Patz to the basement of the deli where he worked near the child's home, strangled him, placed the body in a garbage bag and box, and dumped it in an alley.

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

During the first trial in 2015, jurors deliberated for 18 days without reaching the unanimous verdict that would have been required for conviction. Eleven voted to convict, while one held out for acquittal.

Hernandez faces possible life in prison if convicted.

(Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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