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Former Etan Patz juror: Prosecutor has "no evidence" against Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is being tried a second time for allegedly killing Etan Patz

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NEW YORK – On the day prosecutors in New York City began re-trying the man they say killed 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979, one of the jurors in the original trial wrote an op-ed expressing his view that the prosecutor has “no evidence” to corroborate their claims against Pedro Hernandez.

Adam Sirois was the lone holdout juror in the original trial of Hernandez, who worked at a store near Patz’s bus stop. The jury in May 2015 deadlocked in the case that eluded investigators for decades, ratcheted up Americans’ consciousness of missing children and now centers on whether Hernandez’s confession was true.

In his column for the New York Post, Sirois says that confession just wasn’t enough to convince him that Hernandez, whose attorneys say is mentally ill, committed the crime: “I waited three months in the first trial for a shred of evidence linking Hernandez to the crime. It never arrived.”

Sirois was one of several prior jurors and alternates in the audience Wednesday as the trial began.

Prosecutors say Hernandez, 55, hid a brutal secret for more than 30 years. His lawyers say he’s mentally ill and falsely confessed to waylaying and killing 6-year-old Etan as he walked to his school bus stop on May 25, 1979.

“Pedro Hernandez is an innocent man” implicated only by his own imagination, defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein told jurors. “He’s not a child killer, but he’s an odd, limited and vulnerable man.”

Etan’s disappearance - on the first day his mother let him walk to the bus stop alone - did much to slam a door on a time when American parents felt comfortable letting children roam their neighborhoods unaccompanied.

The body of the upbeat, trusting boy was never found, but his face became one of the first missing-children’s portraits that Americans saw on milk cartons. The anniversary of his disappearance became National Missing Children’s Day, and his parents helped push for a law that modernized how authorities handle missing-child cases.

Hernandez, 55, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, worked at a corner store by Etan’s bus stop. But Hernandez wasn’t a suspect until police got a 2012 tip from his brother-in-law. He was among several relatives and acquaintances who later testified that Hernandez said years ago he’d killed a child in New York.

Hernandez then told authorities, on video, that he’d choked Etan after offering him a soda to lure him into the store’s basement.

“Something just took over me,” Hernandez said. “I’m being honest. I feel bad what I did.”

Prosecutors suggest the motive was sexual and depict Hernandez as a cunning criminal. “You will see a man with very good memory, controlling and very aware of what he was going to say and what he wasn’t going to say” when he confessed, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi told jurors Wednesday.

But the defense says the confession is fiction, imagined by a man with a history of hallucinations and an IQ in the lowest 2 percent of the population, and fueled by more than six hours of police questioning off-camera. No physical evidence or eyewitnesses connect him to Etan’s disappearance.

Defense psychological experts said Hernandez had given them dreamlike accounts of the killing, at points saying as many as 15 mysterious people were on hand, some wearing hospital gowns and pearls. He wavered on whether it actually happened, the defense doctors said.

“Pedro sees, hears and believes things that are not real,” Fishbein said, noting that Hernandez has been on antipsychotic medication since the early 2000s and, even in his recorded confessions to authorities, describes having seen his dead mother speak to him.

The defense also suggests the real killer may be a convicted Pennsylvania child molester who was a prime suspect for years. He has denied involvement in Etan’s death.