Etan Patz Update: Pedro Hernandez to plead not guilty in 1979 slaying of NYC boy, lawyer says

Pedro Hernandez appears in Manhattan criminal court with his attorney Harvey Fishbein, Wed., Nov. 15, 2012, in New York.

Pedro Hernandez appears in Manhattan criminal court with his attorney Harvey Fishbein, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012.
AP Photo/Louis Lanzano

(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - The lawyer for Pedro Hernandez contends his client made a false confession and will plead not guilty in the 1979 slaying of 6-year-old Etan Patz.

Pictures: Decades later, new details in Etan Patz case

Hernandez admitted in May to suffocating Etan, prompting the first arrest in the case since the boy disappeared more than three decades ago. But Hernandez's lawyer said Thursday Hernandez is mentally ill and his statements "are not reliable."

"The really sad part of this case is that it will take time, it will take money ... and it will not tell the city what happened to Etan Patz," his lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, said in Thursday's court hearing.

A judge set a Dec. 12 date for Hernandez to enter a plea. He has been held without bail since his arrest.

While Fishbein said Hernandez is schizophrenic and prone to hallucinations, the attorney said the New Jersey man is fit to stand trial. Legally, competence for trial doesn't mean a defendant's mental state can't be part of his defense.

But prosecutors say an exhaustive post-arrest investigation found enough evidence to seek an indictment and proceed to trial.

"We believe the evidence that Mr. Hernandez killed Etan Patz to be credible and persuasive, and that his statements are not the product of any mental illness," Erin M. Duggan, spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said Wednesday.

Etan's disappearance led an intensive search that spawned a movement to publicize cases of missing children. His photo was among the first put on milk cartons and May 25, the day he disappeared, became National Missing Children's Day.

Hernandez, 51, was a teenage stock clerk at a convenience store when Etan disappeared on his way to school. Hernandez was a married father with no criminal record and living in Maple Shade, N.J. when police approached him based on a tip earlier this year.

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

Following the arrest, court hearings for Hernandez were postponed for weeks, with both sides saying they were continuing to investigate. The prosecutor's office said in September it wanted time to keep going "in a measured and fair manner."

Fishbein said he planned to have expert witnesses explain why people sometimes admit to crimes they didn't commit.

"It's a hard concept to understand. But it's a reality. And it's a scary reality," Fishbein said.

Asked whether Hernandez still believes his confession, the attorney answered, "He's pleading not guilty."

Complete coverage of the Etan Patz case on Crimesider