(Reuters) — A defense lawyer for a man who confessed to the decades-old murder of a New York boy tried to show jurors on Friday that his client willingly accompanied police who had no warrant and therefore was not the calculating killer described by prosecutors.
The prosecution called a series of law enforcement officers to the witness stand in the murder trial of Pedro Hernandez, 54, who confessed in 2012 to killing 6-year-old Etan Patz.
The defense says the confession was coerced from a mentally ill man.
Patz vanished as he walked alone for the first time to a school bus stop in his Soho 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.
Decades later, Hernandez, who had since moved to Maple Shade, New Jersey, confessed on videotape that he strangled the boy in the basement of the Soho deli where he once worked.
Law enforcement officers from the Maple Shade Police Department and the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office testified in state court in Manhattan that Hernandez was calm and cooperative when he was picked up at his Maple Shade home around 8 a.m. on May 23, 2012.
During cross examination, defense attorneys asked whether the officers had a search warrant or an arrest warrant when they went to Hernandez’s home. The officers’ answers were cut short by prosecution objections.
During a jury recess, defense attorney Harvey Fishbein explained his line of questioning to the trial judge.
The officers did not have either warrant, Fishbein told the judge, and therefore Hernandez could have asked officers to leave at any time.
Hernandez’s cooperation undermines prosecution arguments that he is a smart, calculating individual who deliberately avoided prosecution for 35 years, Fishbein told the judge.
His client had a right to say, “Officers please move outside,” but he didn’t and that shows he was not craftily avoiding prosecution, Fishbein said.
“Certain magical words (from Hernandez) would have ended the investigation,” he said.
Maple Shade Patrolman Mark O’Brien also testified that Hernandez’s wife told him her husband was unstable but the officer didn’t share that information with others because Hernandez seemed so calm and cooperative.
When Hernandez left his home with the officers, he was brought to the prosecutor’s office, where he confessed to the killing.
(Reporting by Natasja Sheriff; Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Eric Beech)