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Etan Patz Update: Murder suspect Pedro Hernandez due in court, expected to plead not guilty

Pedro Hernandez appears in Manhattan criminal court on Nov. 15, 2012, in New York AP Photo/Louis Lanzano, Pool

Pedro Hernandez appears in Manhattan criminal court on Nov. 15, 2012
Pool, AP Photo/Louis Lanzano

(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - Pedro Hernandez, the man charged in the 1979 slaying of 6-year-old New York City boy Etan Patz, is due in court today. He is expected to plead not guilty to the murder despite police saying he confessed to the crime.

Pictures: Decades later, new details in Etan Patz case

Hernandez, 51, is expected to plead not guilty during his scheduled arraignment Wednesday and he isn't pursuing an insanity defense, said his lawyer Harvey Fishbein.

An insanity defense would mean acknowledging he committed the crime but he was too psychologically ill to know it was wrong. Fishbein said Hernandez will maintain he didn't kill Etan and argue that he made a false confession because of his mental problems, among other factors.

"The only part that mental disease plays in this case is its role in the confession," he said before the court date.

Fishbein said psychiatric exams found that Hernandez has an IQ in the borderline-to-mild mental retardation range. Hernandez was also found to suffer from schizotypal personality disorder, which is characterized by hallucinations, according to his lawyer.

Etan's disappearance more than three decades ago led to an intensive search and spawned a movement to publicize cases of missing children. His photo was among the first put on milk cartons, and the date of his disappearance, May 25, was turned into National Missing Children's Day.

Hernandez was a teenage stock clerk at a convenience store when Etan disappeared on his way to school in lower Manhattan. He was never questioned despite the exhaustive search and left the city for New Jersey shortly after the boy vanished, police said.

He was approached this spring based on a tip that came after federal authorities dug up a basement in the neighborhood hoping for clues. Hernandez is a married father of two with no criminal record and was living in Maple Shade, N.J.

Investigators said Hernandez told them he lured the boy into the convenience store with the promise of a soda. According to police, he said he led the child to the basement, choked him and left his body in a bag of trash about a block away.

Under New York state law, a confession can be enough to convict someone as long as authorities can establish that a crime occurred.

The boy's body was never found. Etan's parents, Stan and Julie Patz, were reluctant to move or even change their phone number in case their son tried to reach out. They have not commented on the recent developments.

Etan was declared legally dead by his father more than a decade ago so he could sue convicted child molester Jose Ramos in the boy's death. Ramos was found responsible, but it's unclear how that finding could now factor into the prosecution of Hernandez.

Complete coverage of the Etan Patz case on Crimesider

  • Crimesider Staff

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