By Natasja Sheriff
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A former grocery store worker accused of murdering a New York boy missing for decades will not testify in his own defense, his attorney said on Monday.
Pedro Hernandez, 54, is on trial for kidnapping and murder in a case that hinges on his confession to police in 2012 that he choked 6-year-old Etan Patz, stuffed him in a box and left him in a New York alley.
Patz vanished as he walked alone for the first time to a school bus stop in his Manhattan neighborhood on May 25, 1979. His disappearance sparked a national movement to find missing children, with his picture one of the first to appear on milk cartons.
Defense attorneys say Hernandez’s confession was coerced by police. They say he is mentally ill, intellectually disabled and suffers from hallucinations.
Hernandez has chosen not to testify at his trial in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, his attorney Harvey Fishbein said.
Fishbein said Hernandez knows of his constitutional right to take the witness stand but does not want to do so.
Hernandez was questioned and arrested in 2012 after police got a tip that he confessed to the crime to a church prayer group in New Jersey.
Patz has never been found. He was declared dead in 2001.
Defense attorneys say the real killer is Jose Antonio Ramos, whose girlfriend used to walk Patz to school. For years, he was the prime suspect.
Last week, a former top investigator and a former prosecutor in the Patz case testified that Ramos told them in separate interviews that a boy he took to his apartment for sex in 1979 may have been Patz.
Ramos told them both he put the boy on a subway train afterward, they testified.
Another witness, a jailhouse informant, testified that Ramos boasted in prison that he had sexually abused Patz and that the boy was dead but his body would never be found.
The jury also will not hear from Ramos, who the defense had sought to put on the stand.
Judge Maxwell Wiley denied the defense request after Ramos said he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right to not testify against himself.
(Reporting by Natasja Sheriff; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Eric Beech)