By Natasja Sheriff
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Jurors in the case of a New York boy missing for over three decades watched videotape on Monday of the man accused of his murder saying he choked the boy but that the child was still alive when he was stuffed in a bag and dumped in an alley.
The videotape was played by prosecutors in the trial of Pedro Hernandez, 54, charged with the kidnapping and murder of 6-year-old Etan Patz.
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.
Hernandez confessed to police in 2012, but his attorneys say the confession was coerced and that he is mentally ill and suffers hallucinations.
In a videotape made by police, Hernandez, who worked in a deli near the boy’s home, says he offered Patz a soda and that he and the boy went downstairs to the store’s basement.
“I was standing behind him, and I put my hands around his neck. Then I choked him,” Hernandez says.
“He was alive. He was alive,” Hernandez says repeatedly. “He wasn’t dead. I didn’t do it. I only choked him.”
Shown a picture of Patz, Hernandez says that was the boy he choked.
Elsewhere in his confession, Hernandez told police he stuffed the boy, still alive, in a bag and dumped him in an alley.
Patz has never been found. He was declared dead in 2001.
The videotape played on Monday, one of three made by police, was made after more than six hours of questioning of Hernandez.
Asked in the videotape if he had anything to say to the Patz family, Hernandez says: “I’m really sorry. I didn’t want to hurt a little child. … I hope that they can forgive me for what I did. I hope the kid will be in heaven.”
Also testifying in state Supreme Court in Manhattan was New York police Detective David Ramirez, who said Hernandez stated the boy had a book bag that Hernandez threw on top of a freezer in the deli.
No book bag was ever found.
Julie Patz, the boy’s mother, testified earlier that he headed to school that day carrying a tote bag filled with toy cars.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Peter Cooney)