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New York jurors focus on confession in 1979 child murder case

By Natasja Sheriff

By Natasja Sheriff

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jurors on Monday ended a fourth day of deliberations in the trial of a former deli worker who told police he strangled 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979, after they asked to review evidence that appears to raise questions about the confession.

The jurors were due back at state Supreme Court in Manhattan on Tuesday to begin a fifth day deliberating the fate of Pedro Hernandez, 54, who if convicted, faces the possibility of life in prison.

The panel asked to rehear the testimony of Jose Lopez, the brother-in-law who turned in Hernandez to police. Lopez contacted police three times, in 2000, 2004 and 2012, to tip them off that Hernandez had confessed to a church group in the early 1980s that he killed a boy.


Acting on the 2012 tip, police interviewed Hernandez and he confessed to choking the boy in the deli basement and leaving a box with his still-moving body in an alley.

The jury also asked to see weather records from May 25, 1979, the day Patz vanished from his Soho neighborhood in Manhattan on his first walk alone to the school bus stop and was never seen again.

Patz's disappearance shook New York City and the country and led to a change in the way authorities respond to missing and abducted children. He was among the first children whose pictures appeared on milk cartons in an effort to find them.

Defense lawyers say Hernandez is mentally ill, intellectually disabled and suffers hallucinations, and that his confession to police in 2012 was coerced.

They argue he got important details wrong, such as saying the killing happened on a sunny day when weather records show it was cloudy and overcast.

Jurors also requested a blueprint of a bakery at 113 Thompson Street in Manhattan, the location where Hernandez said he left the box. During the trial, a police detective testified that Hernandez led police to the address, which Hernandez had described as an alley but which turned out to be a bakery.

The prosecution contends Hernandez is not mentally ill but actually cunning, and his confession was voluntary.

Defense attorneys put the blame on Jose Ramos, whose girlfriend at the time walked Patz and his friends home from school. Long the prime suspect, Ramos is a convicted child molester in prison in Pennsylvania.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)