Patz suspect charged with 2nd-degree murder
Updated 8:08 PM ET
(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - Thirty-three years to the day after 6-year-old Etan Patz vanished without a trace while walking to catch a school bus, a man accused of strangling him and dumping his body with the trash was arraigned on a murder charge on Friday in a locked hospital ward where he was being held as a suicide risk.
A lawyer for Pedro Hernandez, who was a teenage convenience store stock clerk at the time of the boy's disappearance, told the judge that his client is mentally ill and has a history of hallucinations.
Hernandez, now 51, appeared in court on Friday evening via video camera from a conference room at Bellevue Hospital, where he was admitted earlier in the day after making comments about wanting to kill himself.
The legal proceeding lasted only around 4 minutes. Hernandez didn't speak or enter a plea, but his court-appointed lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, told the judge that his client was bipolar and schizophrenic and has a "history of hallucinations, both visual and auditory."
A judge ordered Hernandez held without bail and authorized a psychological examination to see if he is fit to stand trial.
Hernandez was expressionless during the hearing. He wore an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs. A police officer stood behind him.
The prosecutor who appeared in court, Assistant District Attorney Armand Durastanti, said it was "33 years ago today that 6-year-old Etan Patz left his home on Prince Street to catch his school bus. He has not been seen or heard from since. It's been 33 years, and justice has not been done in this case."
Hernandez, a churchgoing father now living in Maple Shade, N.J., was arrested Thursday after making a surprise confession in a case that has bedeviled investigators and inspired dread in generations of New York City parents for three decades.
Etan disappeared on May 25, 1979, on his two-block walk to his bus stop in Manhattan in a case that made New York parents afraid to let their children out of their sight and sparked a movement to publicize the cases of missing youngsters. He was one of the first missing children to be pictured on a milk carton.
Hernandez, who emerged as a suspect just days ago, after police received a tip, told investigators that he lured the boy into the store, then led him to the basement, choked him and put his body in a bag with some trash about a block away, police said.
CBS News senior correspondent John Miller reported that Jose Lopez, the suspect's brother-in-law, was the person who brought the tip to New York detectives weeks ago, according to a law enforcement source.
Asked by a reporter on Friday if in his mind Hernandez is the killer, Lopez said, "No doubt about it. He said he did what he did." And in response to a question if it was a big relief, Lopez replied it was for himself and his family.
Authorities never found a body, and Hernandez's confession put investigators in the unusual position of bringing the case to court before they had amassed any physical evidence or had time to fully corroborate his story or investigate his psychiatric condition.
Police spokesman Paul Browne said investigators were retracing garbage truck routes from the late 1970s and deciding whether to search landfills for the boy's remains, a daunting prospect.
Crime scene investigators also arrived Friday morning at the building in Manhattan's SoHo section that once held the bodega where Hernandez worked. Authorities were considering excavating the basement for evidence.
They were also looking into whether Hernandez has a history of mental illness or pedophilia.
Browne said letting Hernandez remain free until the investigation was complete was not an option: "There was no way we could release the man who had just confessed to killing Etan Patz."
Fishbein asked reporters to be respectful of some of Hernandez's relatives, including his wife and daughter.
"It's a tough day. The family is very upset. Please give them some space," Fishbein said.
Etan's father, Stanley Patz, avoided journalists gathered Friday outside the family's Manhattan apartment, the same one the family was living in when his son vanished.
Former Soho resident Roberto Monticello, a filmmaker who was a teenager when Patz disappeared, said he remembered Hernandez as civil but reserved and "pent-up."
"You always got the sense that if you crossed him really bad, he would hurt you," Monticello said, although he added that he never saw him hit anyone.
Monticello said Hernandez was also one of the few teenagers in the neighborhood who didn't join in the all-out search for Etan, which consumed SoHo and the city for months.
"He was always around, but he never helped. He never participated," Monticello said.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Friday that investigators had yet to determine any motive for the slaying, but authorities said they have a detailed, signed confession, as well as accounts of incriminating remarks Hernandez made to others.
But police have no physical evidence or a motive for the killing, something legal experts said could be difficult when prosecuting the case.
"The only thing you have, as of right now, is a freestanding confession without any corroboration whatsoever," defense attorney Ron Kuby, who does not represent Hernandez, told WCBS 880's Steve Scott. "And while juries to tend to believe confessions, they want corroboration and they want a motive. And the fact is, at least according to what's been publicly announced, Mr. Hernandez claimed that for absolutely no reason, he grabbed a total stranger, a small child, lured him downstairs, murdered him, then disposed of the body."
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