Etan Patz suspect: He was alive when I left him

Pedro Hernandez, the confessed killer of Etan Patz, has been charged with second-degree murder. Police say it was a family member that led detectives to him, reports John Miller.

NEW YORK Pedro Hernandez told New York City Detectives that, when he left Etan Patz's body in a doorway, he believed the little boy was still alive.

The 1979 disappearance of the six year old became the most symbolic kidnapping case since the murder of the Lindberg baby, stirring the movement that put missing children on milk cartons and billboards.

The stunning revelation and other new details come in documents filed with the court just after Hernandez entered a not guilty plea to the very crimes he confessed to last May in a marathon session with police. In that session, he detailed the killing of the boy, during questioning and again on video.

According to the new documents, Hernandez was picked up at his home at 7 a.m. on May 23 and taken to the Camden County (N.J.) Prosecutor's Office. It was two days before the 33rd anniversary of the Patz disappearance.

According to court documents filed by Hernandez's lawyer Wednesday, Hernandez had been questioned for eight hours when he told police, "He was at work that morning, that he saw the boy at the bus stop, asked him if he would like a soda, led him to the basement of the bodega where he was employed, and for no apparent reason immediately choked the boy until the boy went limp. The defendant said he then placed the boy in a plastic bag, placed the bag in a cardboard box, and tossed the boy's book bag behind a freezer in the basement. He then carried the box to the entranceway of a basement approximately one-and-a-half blocks away, where he placed the box on the ground just inside the open entranceway. According to the video-recorded statement by Mr. Hernandez, when he left the box, Etan Patz was still alive."

Later, Hernandez told prosecutors he believed his actions may have led to the boy's death.

Police said after his arrest, Hernandez took them to the location where he believed he'd left the body and told them he went back the next day to check on the box, but it was gone.

Hernandez's lawyers say his confession is false and part of more than 20 years of delusional behavior. His lawyer has supplied the district attorney with medical records documenting Hernandez's psychiatric history and an expert's opinion on false confessions.

The new details of Hernandez's statements to police and prosecutors give some indications of questions that may be raised at trial. Questions such as, when police searched the basements in the blocks around the boy's home, why was the book bag behind the freezer not discovered? Why did no witness remember seeing a man carrying a box big enough to contain the body of a 50 pound boy? And why, in the massive dragnet on the streets of the Manhattan neighborhood of SoHo that began the night of Patz's disappearance was the box with his body not found?

For each question, there are possible explanations. Police might not have looked behind the freezer. A stock boy carrying a large box might not have struck passersby as unusual. The private carting company that served the streets where Hernandez says he left the box may have picked it up before the boy was reported missing.

In a motion to dismiss the indictment against Hernandez, his lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, argues that Hernandez's confession alone is unreliable because of his long psychiatric history. The document also states, "In the six months since Hernandez's arrest, the NYPD (New York Police Department) and the New York County District Attorney's Office have conducted an intensive investigation attempting to corroborate Mr. Hernandez's statements. However, I am told by the District Attorney's Office they have found nothing."

Hernandez emerged suddenly as a suspect last May when a family member reported to New York police that Hernandez had made statements over the years saying that "he had done a bad thing" and that "he had killed a child in New York."

In May of 1979, Hernandez worked as a stock boy in a small grocery store located just a block from the Patz's SoHo loft and on the same corner the six year old was to board a school bus.

For years before Hernandez's confession, another man, Jose Ramos was the prime suspect in the kidnapping. Ramos, who has a long history of arrests for sexually abusing young boys, had been the boyfriend of a woman who had been hired to walk Etan to school during a strike by school bus drivers. The day Patz vanished was the first time his parents had yielded to the boy's requests to walk the one block to the bus stop by himself. Young Etan was excited that day over his new independence, and because he had a dollar to buy a soda.

Reached at his office late Wednesday, Fishbein wouldn't not comment beyond what was contained in the motion to the court.

  • John Miller

    John Miller is a senior correspondent for CBS News, with extensive experience in intelligence, law enforcement and journalism, including stints in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI.