Patz suspect gets psych exam ahead of arraignment

A man who was working nearby when Etan Patz disappeared 33 years ago is heading to court today. Police say he confessed to the crime. "CBS This Morning" senior correspondent John Miller reports.

(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - Psychologists examined a man accused in one of New York City's most notorious missing child cases as authorities prepared to arraign him Friday in the case of Etan Patz, a 6-year-old boy who disappeared exactly 33 years ago on a date now recognized as National Missing Children's Day.

After decades of inconclusive clues and stalled hopes, Pedro Hernandez, a former convenience-store stock clerk, was arrested Thursday on a charge of murdering Etan, one of the first missing children ever to appear on a milk carton.

The boy vanished on a two-block walk to his school bus stop in Manhattan. Hernandez, who was 19 at the time, told investigators this week that he lured the little boy into the shop with the promise of a soda, then led him to the basement, choked him and put his body in a bag with some trash about a block away. Authorities never found a body.

Hernandez, now 51 and living in Maple Shade, N.J., was scheduled to appear in court for the first time later Friday. His court-appointed lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, arrived at the courthouse late in the morning and declined to comment, saying he hadn't met with his client yet.

He asked reporters to be respectful of some of Hernandez's relatives assembled at the courthouse, including his wife, daughter and another man, who huddled together on a wooden bench, turning away interview requests for more than an hour.

"It's a tough day. The family is upset. Please give them some space," Fishbein said.

Police said Hernandez was taken to a secure wing at Bellevue Hospital early Friday to get medication for an existing health problem. While he was there, psychologists questioned him about his mental state, then cleared him to return to a regular holding area. Police wouldn't disclose the existing condition.

The convenience store in Etan Patz's SoHo neighborhood where suspect Pedro Hernandez worked at the time of the boy's disappearance is seen in 1980.
WCBS/AP/Inside Edition

Crime-scene investigators arrived Friday morning at the building in Manhattan's fashionable SoHo section that once held the bodega where Hernandez briefly worked, and where police said the boy was killed.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Friday that investigators had yet to determine any motive for the slaying, but authorities say 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."

Etan Patz disappeared on May 25, 1979, after his parents, Stan and Julie Patz, allowed him to walk the two blocks to his school bus stop for the first time. The stop was adjacent to the neighborhood bodega where Hernandez worked, police said.

The boy never made it onto the bus. His disappearance sparked a massive search, but no trace of him was ever found.

Hernandez wasn't initially questioned like other workers at the bodega and moved to New Jersey not long after the killing, Kelly said.

In fact, when Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance reopened the case two years ago, the NYPD and FBI worked with a list of the top 10 possible suspects and Hernandez wasn't on it, reports CBS News senior correspondent John Miller.

But the commissioner said Hernandez had told a relative and others, as far back as 1981, that he had "done something bad" and killed an unnamed child in New York City. He emerged as a suspect after a tipster contact police, following news reports about a fruitless search for the boy's remains last month in a basement near the Patz family home.

Patz's parents have been told about the arrest, police said.

"Mr. Patz was taken back, a little surprised and I would say overwhelmed to a degree," said Lt. Chris Zimmerman of the NYPD Missing Persons Squad. "He was a little surprised, but I think after everything Mr. Patz has gone through, he handled it very well."

Just last month, police and the FBI spent days digging up a basement in Patz's SoHo neighborhood looking for clues, but authorities said that no obvious human remains had been found.

The basement was used as a workshop by handyman Othniel Miller, now 75, who was interviewed soon after Patz vanished in 1979.

Back in April, Miller was questioned again by law enforcement officials. Miller was not named a suspect and denied any involvement in the case.

Miller's attorney Michael Farkas, said his client is relieved and issued a statement that said:

"Mr. Miller is very pleased that those responsible for this heinous crime may be brought to justice, and the Patz family may finally have the closure they deserve."

Patz's disappearance has left a lasting legacy in the U.S. Three years after he went missing, Congress passed the Missing Child Act making it possible for police departments around the country to enter missing child information into the FBI's database.

In 1984, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was created.

"I think it took a horrific story like this, which shook people to the core to wake up a nation," said Ernie Allen, President of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "It really shone a light on the fact that our response to missing child cases was woefully inadequate."

Prior to the Etan Patz case, most police departments had mandatory waiting periods before taking a missing child report.

May 25, the day Patz disappeared, was also named National Missing Children's Day.