Pedro Hernandez was found guilty of felony murder and kidnapping in the death of six-year-old Etan Patz, who infamously disappeared from his SoHo bus stop in 1979, NBC New York reports.
The 56-year-old Hernandez was found not guilty on charges of intentional second-degree murder, meaning jurors did not believe he meant to kill Patz. However, he still faces up to life in prison. Hernandez’s attorney, Harvey Fishbein, said he will appeal.
Hernandez’s conviction comes after two trials, a nine-day deliberation and almost 40 years since Patz went missing. The case quickly became national news as Patz’s face appeared on “Missing” posters around New York City, newspapers, TV newscasts and, for the first time ever, milk cartons.
As investigators continued to search for Patz, his parents, Stanley and Julie, pushed for laws that established a national hotline and made it easier for law enforcement agencies to share information about missing children. National Missing Children’s Day was established on May 25th, the anniversary of Patz’s disappearance.
For many years, investigators believed that another suspect, convicted pedophile Jose Ramos, was behind Patz’s kidnapping. But in 2012, they turned their attention to Hernandez after his brother-in-law informed police about his possible involvement. Hernandez had reportedly told several people that he had killed a young person, though never mentioned Patz by name.
Several of these people testified during the trial, per The New York Times. A member of a church group said Hernandez broke down in tears and confessed to attacking a child, while his ex-wife said Hernandez told her he’d killed a “muchacho” before they married. She also testified that she later found an image of Patz that Hernandez had taken from a missing poster and stored in a box in a closet.
Hernandez himself also confessed to a murder in various interviews, which were played throughout the trial. He said he encountered a boy outside the bodega where he worked, asked if he wanted a soda, then led him to a basement where he began to choke the boy. Hernandez said he then put the boy in a plastic bag, placed the bag into a box and left it by the garbage, saying he believed the child was still alive.
Despite these interviews, the defense argued that Hernandez had a low I.Q. and suffered from mental health issues. They claimed he concocted the whole story and was also susceptible to the pressures of a lengthy and intense police interrogation. They also argued that Ramos was behind the murder, noting he was familiar with a woman who had been hired to walk Patz home from school. Hernandez’s first trial ended with a hung jury after one juror declined to convict, citing Hernandez’s mental health issues the possibility of another suspect.
In a statement, Stanley Patz thanked attorneys and law enforcement for their work over the last 37 years. “I’ve known for a long time that this man Pedro Hernandez is guilty of doing something really terrible so many years ago,” he said.