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Judge Rules Confession In Etan Patz Case Can Be Used At Trial

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A New York City judge has ruled that videotaped confessions by a man charged with killing a boy who vanished in 1979 can be used at his upcoming murder trial.

Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley ruled Monday in Pedro Hernandez's case.

Hernandez, 53, has pleaded not guilty to killing 6-year-old Etan Patz, who vanished while walking to his school bus stop. Patz was one of the first missing children ever pictured on a milk carton. The anniversary of his disappearance became National Missing Children's Day.

Judge Rules Confession In Etan Patz Case Can Be Used At Trial

After decades of investigation that stretched as far as Israel, Hernandez emerged as a suspect in 2012. He had worked at a bodega in SoHo where Etan disappeared.

The Maple Shade, New Jersey, man confessed on video after more than six hours of questioning, telling police he lured Etan to the store basement with the promise of a soda, choked the boy, put the body in a bag and a box and left it on the street several blocks away.

"I was nervous; my legs were jumping,'' Hernandez says in the tape. "I wanted to let go, but I just couldn't let go. I felt like something just took over me. I don't know what to say. Something just took over me, and I was just choking him.''

Etan's body was never found.

Judge Rules Confession In Etan Patz Case Can Be Used At Trial

In the 1980s, Hernandez also allegedly told a prayer group and others that he'd harmed a child in New York. But authorities have not pointed to any physical or scientific evidence against him, and his defense has said there is none.

Defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein has said Hernandez is mentally ill and his admissions were imaginary. The Manhattan district attorney's office says the confession was real and legally obtained.

Wiley wasn't tasked with determining whether the admission was true -- just whether it was obtained legally and whether Hernandez comprehended what he was doing when he waived his right to stay silent.

Wiley called Hernandez's waiver of his Miranda rights "knowing and intelligent.'' While Hernandez has a very low IQ, his overall performance on tests of how well he understood the rights, his decision to waive them and "his basic ability to make his way in the world over a period of almost 40 years compel this conclusion,'' the judge wrote.

Fishbein stressed that it would still be up to a jury to decide whether the confession was true. The trial is set for Jan. 5.

"We're looking forward to that, and we're ready to go,'' he said. "Anyone who sees these confessions will understand that when the police were finished with him, Mr. Hernandez believed that he killed Etan Patz -- but that doesn't mean that he actually did.''

At about 70, Hernandez' IQ puts him in the bottom 2 percent of the population, a defense psychological expert testified during a weeks-long hearing this fall.

His lawyer has said Hernandez's medical records mention schizophrenia dating back years, he's taken anti-psychotic medication for years, and since his arrest, he's been diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder. Its effects on him include "cognitive and perceptual distortions,'' including hallucinations, Fishbein has said. In one of the confessions, Hernandez says he has had visions of his dead mother.

A defense psychologist told the court he believed Hernandez wouldn't have fully comprehended what he was agreeing to in saying he understood his Miranda rights.

But a prosecution expert differed, noting that Hernandez scored not much below people of average intelligence on a specific test of how well someone understands the function of the familiar Miranda rights warning during police interrogation.

"The evidence convincingly demonstrated that he knowingly waived those rights and voluntarily provided a statement,'' Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon later wrote in a court filing.

Hernandez had gone through 11th grade without special education or remedial summer school, represented himself in a prolonged divorce and child support proceeding, participated in his church, and successfully applied for Social Security disability benefits, the prosecutor noted.

Etan's father, Stan Patz, declined to comment as he left court Monday.

Jury selection is expected to start in early January.

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