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NYC Judge Rules To Allow Etan Patz Murder Trial To Proceed

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A judge has declined to throw out a murder case against a man charged decades after an infamous 1979 child disappearance in New York City.

The ruling came Wednesday in the case against Pedro Hernandez of Maple Shade, N.J. He is charged with murder in the decades-old child disappearance case of Etan Patz.

Hernandez pleaded not guilty in December to the murder charge in the death of 6-year-old Etan, who disappeared on his way to a school bus stop on May 25, 1979.

After more than three decades without major developments in the case, authorities said Hernandez suddenly confessed to the crime last May. Police said he was arrested after they received a tip.

NYC Judge To Decide If Etan Patz Murder Case Goes To Trial

He told police he lured young Etan into the basement of a Bodega where he worked with the promise of a soda and then suffocated him, authorities said.

Hernandez's lawyer Harvey Fishbein had requested the case be dismissed, saying his client has a long history of mental illness including schizophrenia, delusions and hallucinations and believes that coupled with possible police coercion, sparked the confession.

Pedro Hernandez
Pedro Hernandez in court on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 (credit: CBS 2)

"The statements made by my client, they are what we term false confessions," he said.

But prosecutors have said there's no history of Hernandez being treated for a major psychiatric condition before his arrest.

The Manhattan district attorney's office argued that there's enough evidence to sustain the charges, but it's unclear what forensic evidence, if any, prosecutors have.

The case is further complicated by the recent prison release of longtime prime suspect Jose Ramos, a neighborhood handyman who served time for unrelated child abuse.

Ramos was declared responsible for Etan's death in a civil court in 2004, but the Manhattan DA's office said there wasn't enough evidence to charge him criminally.

Ramos had been dating the boy's baby sitter in 1979. He has denied any involvement in the case.

NYC Judge Rules To Allow Etan Patz Murder Trial To Proceed

Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley said in a written ruling that the evidence against Hernandez was "legally sufficient to support the charges.''

The judge, through his ruling, determined there's enough evidence to bring the case to a trial that would likely revolve around whether Hernandez' confession amounts to a mentally ill man's imaginings, as his defense claims.

"We're prepared to move forward to trial and show the people of New York that Pedro Hernandez had nothing to do with whatever happened to Etan Patz in 1979,'' defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein said after court. "This isn't a technicality defense, this is I did not do it. And the reason that his psychiatric and his mentality level of intelligence come into play is because we firmly are arguing that his confession is a false confession."

The judge ordered a hearing on whether Hernandez' statements can be used at trial. Such hearings are fairly common.

Hernandez, 52, sat stock-still during a brief court appearance, as his wife and daughter and a friend watched from the audience. The women hugged tearfully in the courtroom hallway afterward and declined to speak with reporters. Prosecutors had no immediate comment.

Etan's disappearance 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 his case turned May 25 into National Missing Children's Day.

Hernandez is due back in court July 31.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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