By Natasja Sheriff
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The ex-wife of Pedro Hernandez, the man charged in the 1979 murder of 6-year-old Etan Patz, testified on Monday that he said he strangled to death a young man on a New York City street.
Hernandez, 54, is on trial on charges of kidnapping and murdering Patz, who disappeared on May 25, 1979, while walking alone to a school bus stop in Manhattan's Soho neighborhood.
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Testifying in state court in Manhattan, Daisy Rivera said Hernandez told her in 1982 that he had recently killed a man.
Hernandez told her that he was somewhere in Manhattan when a young white man approached him, Rivera said.
"This person had approached him and he felt violated," Rivera said. "He said it had gotten out of hand and it ended up that he put his hands round the person's neck and had strangled him."
Rivera said Hernandez told her that he put the man's body in a dumpster and covered it with plastic bags.
Her testimony came on the same day that Mike Pike, a childhood friend of Hernandez's, testified that Hernandez confessed decades ago to killing a "dark" boy.
"He told me that he was working in a supermarket and a kid threw a ball at his throat," said Pike, 51. "He told me he strangled the kid then he put him in a bag and in a nearby alley."
Pike did not testify that Hernandez had specifically identified the boy he had killed as the blonde-haired Patz.
Pike and Hernandez belonged to the same church group, whose members testified last week that on a retreat in 1979 Hernandez confessed to the group that he had killed Patz. Pike, who did not join the retreat, said Hernandez told him separately about the murder.
Hernandez was arrested in 2012 after police got a tip about remarks made to a church group. He then confessed to police that he had lured Patz to the basement of the Soho deli where he worked, strangled him, placed him in a trash bag and dumped the body in an alley.
His defense attorneys say police coerced that confession and that Hernandez is mentally ill and suffers from hallucinations.
Patz's body was never found, but in 2001 a court declared him legally dead.
His disappearance sparked a national movement to find missing children, and he was one of the first missing children whose picture appeared on a milk carton.
(Reporting by Natasja Sheriff; Editing by Laila Kearney, Will Dunham and Eric Beech)