Etan Patz suspect Pedro Hernandez on murder charge
- 26 May 2012
- From the section US & Canada
The man who has confessed to killing six-year-old Etan Patz in 1979 has been charged with second-degree murder.
Pedro Hernandez was to appear before court via video link from hospital, where he was held on suicide watch.
He was brought to Bellevue Hospital, New York, to get medication for an existing health issue, but was admitted after making suicidal remarks.
Mr Hernandez, 51, was arrested on Thursday after telling police he had choked the boy to death.
According to the charging document , Mr Hernandez "strangled Etan Patz and placed him inside a plastic bag, thereby causing the death of Etan Patz, on or about May 25, 1979, in the basement of 448 West Broadway."
Mr Hernandez' lawyer did not enter a plea, but said his client was bipolar and schizophrenic.
The judge ordered a psychological evaluation of Mr Hernandez, who is being held without bail.
In 1979, Mr Hernandez was 18 years old and working in a convenience shop near the Patz family home in Manhattan, New York.
The case of Etan Patz haunted New York and transformed the national response to missing children.
'Feeling of relief'
Etan vanished while walking to a school bus stop on his own for the first time.
His was the first face to appear on milk cartons asking for information about missing children.
It is 33 years to the day since Etan went missing.
Mr Hernandez was arrested on Thursday after being questioned by officials for two days.
"We believe that this is the individual responsible for the crime," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told reporters on Thursday.
He added that Mr Hernandez was "remorseful, and I think the detectives thought that it was a feeling of relief on his part".
According to Commissioner Kelly, Mr Hernandez allegedly had lured the boy "with the promise of a soda".
After leading the boy into the basement, he "choked him there and disposed of the body by placing him in a plastic bag and placing it in the trash".
No body or bag was ever recovered.
Commissioner Kelly told reporters that police took Mr Hernandez back to the scene of the crime, which is now a shop selling spectacles.
On Friday investigators went to the site and were considering whether to excavate the building's basement to look for forensic evidence.
It is said they are also trying to establish whether Mr Hernandez has a history of mental illness or paedophilia.
When the incident took place, Mr Hernandez had been stacking shelves at the small grocery shop for about a month.
While other employees of the shop were interviewed around the time of Etan's disappearance, Mr Hernandez was not.
"I can't tell you why," Commissioner Kelly said.
Mr Hernandez worked in construction until he suffered a back injury in 1993. He had no previous criminal record, the police commissioner said.
But the 51-year-old told relatives and others, as far back as 1981, that he had "done something bad".
An acquaintance from the SoHo district in New York told the Associated Press that Mr Hernandez was also one of the few teenagers nearby who did not join in the all-out search for Etan, which consumed the neighbourhood and the city for months.
"He was always around, but he never helped. He never participated," Roberto Monticello said.
Etan's parents, Stanley and Julie Patz, became outspoken advocates for missing children in the years after their son's disappearance.
The couple have not moved since his disappearance and for years refused to change their phone number, hoping that Etan was alive.
Police lieutenant Christopher Zimmerman told reporters that "Mr Patz was taken aback, a little surprised, and I would say overwhelmed, to a degree" when informed of the case breakthrough.
"I think after everything Mr Patz has gone through, he handled it very well."
Police spokesman Paul Browne said Mr Hernandez would not be released before the completion of the investigation. "There was no way we could release the man who had just confessed to killing Etan Patz," he said.
Investigators last month searched a handyman's former workshop near the Patz family home.
In an apparent breakthrough for the decades-old investigation, the Manhattan basement flat was excavated over four days, but no evidence was found.
The handyman, Othniel Miller, was repeatedly questioned by detectives, but denied having anything to do with Etan's disappearance.