By Natasja Sheriff
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Testimony concluded on Thursday in the trial of a former deli worker accused of the 1979 murder of a missing New York City boy, and the jury is expected to begin deliberations next week.
Pedro Hernandez, 54, charged with kidnapping and murder, confessed to police in 2012 that he choked 6-year-old Etan Patz, stuffed him in a box and left him in a New York alley.
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, and his picture was one of the first to appear on milk cartons.
The chilling crime long haunted New Yorkers who can recall the massive search for the missing blond boy, who was never found. He was declared dead in 2001.
Defense attorneys say the confession was coerced by police. They say Hernandez, arrested in 2012 on a tip that he had confessed to a church prayer group in New Jersey, is mentally ill, intellectually disabled and suffers hallucinations.
Testimony began in late January. Summations by the prosecution and defense are slated for Monday in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, with jury deliberations to begin soon afterward.
In a confession videotaped by police and played to the jury, Hernandez described luring Patz into a deli where he worked with the offer of a cold soda.
Hernandez said in the confession that he took the boy to the basement and strangled him.
The jury heard testimony from more than 50 witnesses, including the boy’s mother Julie Patz who described her son as outgoing and trusting, and members of the church group who recounted Hernandez confessing in 1979.
Expert witnesses called by the defense said Hernandez suffered a “schizotypal personality disorder,” could not distinguish between what is real and what is imaginary and is at risk of confessing falsely to a crime due to intellectual disabilities.
Hernandez’ daughter testified that he would hear voices and had visions.
Defense attorneys laid the blame on Jose Ramos, who dated a Patz family babysitter and was long considered the prime suspect. Convicted of sexually abusing boys, Ramos is in prison.
If convicted, Hernandez faces possible life in prison. He did not testify.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by David Gregorio)