By Natasja Sheriff
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Parts of Pedro Hernandez’s videotaped confession about strangling a boy in 1979 were replayed at his murder trial on Thursday, this time by his own lawyer arguing it proves mental illness led him to confess to a crime he never committed.
Hernandez, 54, is on trial for killing Etan Patz, 6, who 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, when authorities resurrected an investigation into the unsolved case, Hernandez, who had since moved to New Jersey, confessed to police that he killed the boy in the basement of the Soho deli where he once worked.
Hernandez said he lured the boy downstairs with the promise of a soda, strangled him, placed him in a box and dumped the body in an alley.
Sections of the videotaped confession, which prosecutors had played in full for the jury in state court in Manhattan prior to a week-long break, were replayed by the defense when the trial resumed on Thursday. The defense says the confession was coerced from a mentally ill man.
Defense attorney Harvey Fishbein pointed to those sections in which Hernandez referred to his mental health, saying he had been diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic, and described how his father physically abused his family.
“He used to beat us with a belt buckle until we bleed, because he always got drunk,” Hernandez said on the videotape.
He also described how he once saw a vision of his mother when he was in the hospital.
“She told me that she came to see me, and she said our father is not with us. So right then I felt that my father was in hell,” he said on the videotape.
Hernandez said his father and brother also had the same mental health problems.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Lisa Lambert)