By Natasja Sheriff
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A jury intently watched the videotaped confession on Tuesday of a man accused of murdering Etan Patz in 1979 and heard him say he choked the 6-year-old boy and "just couldn't let go."
In the courtroom, Pedro Hernandez, 54, saw himself on a large screen near the jury tell law enforcement he lured the boy to the basement of the Soho deli where he worked, strangled him, placed him in a box and dumped the body in an alley.
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The disappearance of Patz as he walked alone for the first time to the school bus stop in his Soho neighborhood on May 25, 1979, sparked a national movement to find missing children. He was one of the first missing children whose picture appeared on a milk carton.
Hernandez said on the videotape played at his murder and kidnapping trial in state court in Manhattan that he saw the boy was standing on the sidewalk when he approached him.
"I asked him if he wanted something to drink, a soda or something. He said, 'Yeah,' so I told him to go to the basement," Hernandez said under questioning by Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Armand Durastanti.
He described Patz as blonde, wearing a little jacket and carrying a book bag and said he strangled the boy.
"I wanted to let go, I just couldn't let go. I felt like something just took over me, and I was choking him," Hernandez said on the videotape.
The boy went limp, but was still alive when he disposed of the body, he said.
"He was still gasping," Hernandez said on the videotape.
The next day, he returned to the alley to look for the body but it was gone.
"I was going to throw it away in the garbage if it was still there," Hernandez said on the videotape.
He said had never met Etan or his family before the killing.
The interview took place from 2:15 a.m. until 7:15 a.m. on Thursday morning, May 24, 2012.
That was about a month after authorities began a highly publicized excavation of the basement of a Soho building in an effort to crack the cold case.
Patz's father and sister sat in court as the jury was transfixed by the videotaped confession, which the defense said was coerced by police from a mentally ill man who suffers from hallucinations.
On the videotape, Durastanti asked Hernandez what happened after he left Patz.
"I just feel like nothing, like nothing happened, like I didn't do nothing wrong," Hernandez said. "I know that I did something wrong, but it didn't bother me that much. I just kept working."
On the videotape, he described three previous confessions to the killing, including one to his first wife, who he told, "I killed someone and it was a child."
Hernandez also said he confessed to a lifelong friend and a New Jersey church group. "We were holding hands, praying," he said on the videotape. "I told everybody that I killed somebody."
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Doina Chiacu, Lisa Lambert and Richard Chang)