The juror whose belief that Pedro Hernandez did not kill six-year-old Etan Patz—resulting in a mistrial for the murder trial—is now speaking out. Adam Sirois, a health care consultant, told WABC 7 that the jury started out as eight for a guilty verdict, four for not guilty, "it moved to approximately 6-6 - there were some unsure votes in there. 9-3, 10-2 and then 11-1, so there was a progress that went along. It was hard to know that I was the last one on the 'not guilty' side, but I couldn't vote the other way."
The murder trial was supposed to be a coda on the 1979 disappearance of Etan, who was last seen heading to his school bus stop in Soho by himself. However, his body was never found and no charges were ever brought against any suspect. The most compelling person of interest was Jose Ramos, a drifter who dated Etan's babysitter who later was convicted of molesting little boys. Ramos told investigators he was 90% sure he had taken Etan and was eventually found guilty of Etan's death in a 2004 civil case.
The NYPD reopened the case of Etan's disappearance in 2012—finding no new evidence—but arrested Hernandez, who had been a bodega worker in the neighborhood in 1979—Etan had apparently headed to the bodega first to get a soda—and who had "confessed" about strangling a boy to relatives and his church group. Detectives who interrogated him for hours without a lawyer, obtained a confession, which Hernandez's defense claimed was extremely questionable because of his mental health issues, which include shizophrenia.
A confession is important evidence, but it’s not the only evidence. You need to corroborate it with other evidence in the case....
For me, the whole case kind of hinges on mental health, which factors into what I think are the false confessions — or at least the likelihood of false confessions being made by him [Hernandez].
We heard testimony from both the defense expert witnesses — mental-health expert witnesses — and the prosecution witnesses.
First of all, false confessions do exist . . . That’s one thing we had to consider.
The second factor was both mental-health witnesses for the defense and the prosecution [described] a series of factors that would make someone vulnerable to say a false confession.
It’s very difficult, for me, I’m not a mental-health expert . . . but actually I was asked by the jury, because of my public-health background [Sirois works for aid groups abroad], to kind of explain the mental-health issue to everyone.
I tried to do as best I could. I was often at the white board trying to explain how this could have happened. How this person could have broken down [and confessed], in terms of that initial day.
That first day was really important — when he was taken to the CCPO [Camden County Prosecutor’s Office] in Camden.
I tried to explain my thinking, my rationale to why I think mental health is such a big part in this case.
Everyone admitted he did have mental-health issues. We finally got there. It took a little while, but we finally got to the point where everyone admitted he did have mental-health issues. Some were less on the spectrum and some were more, but we agreed.
It really — you’d have to believe that the mental-health issues are strong enough to allow someone like Pedro to make this false confession, and I really felt that’s what happened with Mr. Hernandez.
Sirois also questioned the lack of physical evidence. Referring to the bag that Hernandez allegedly stuffed Etan's body in:
What happened to this bag? Would the police, would a detective like [former lead NYPD Detective William] Butler, who unfortunately passed away, [fail to find the bag]? We have evidence that shows at 7:30 in the morning they started the search in the core area. And I don’t know why, but my fellow jurors — some of them — could not accept that the police did check in the bodega basement. They were emphatic that we don’t have evidence to that — and we don’t.
The search documents did not say specifically that they did search the bodega. This is where you have to make sort of an inference from the evidence. To me, [I couldn’t] be convinced that they wouldn’t have found the bag because the police didn’t search the basement where Etan was headed that morning to buy a soda with a dollar.
A lot of the things you have to believe for Pedro to be guilty just don’t add up. It doesn’t add up that they wouldn’t have found that bag. It doesn’t fit with the story.
Jury forewoman Alia Dahhan told the Daily News that Sirois "repeated everything the defense said."
Another juror told the News that "Sirois turned into a bully — berating the other jurors for not being more suspicious of the detectives. 'He would get up and scream at us — ‘This is America. I don’t know why all of you place so much trust in the police!’' recalled one juror who asked to remain anonymous."
Other jurors said they thought Mr. Sirois was distrustful of the detectives in the case, sometimes citing recent examples of police misconduct.
Mr. Sirois acknowledged he was more skeptical than other jurors of the police handling of the interview that led to the confession, noting most of it was not recorded and that the police misrepresented some of Mr. Hernandez’s actual words in their written account of his statement. He also found compelling the expert testimony that Mr. Hernandez was susceptible to making a false confession.
“I do think someone who is mentally compromised and weak could crack under pressure,” he said. “I do think that’s possible.”
There were lighter moments in the jury room: The News reports that the jurors compared their conference room to the one in 12 Angry Men; juror Chris Gilberti said, “At least those guys got a window. We actually joked about sending a request for the judge to give us a window."
Sirois admitted in his Post interview, "There were days where I was definitely thinking, 'I could vote guilty on this,'" but ultimately, "I didn’t feel the evidence was solid enough to vote guilty."
He said of the Patz family, who want the Manhattan DA's office to retry the case, "I feel bad for [dad Stanley Patz’s] loss of Etan, of course. [But] I have no regrets of my decision on the case. They are two separate things. It’s a horrible loss of Etan for the family but it would be a travesty also if I didn’t go with my conscience on this."
The next date in the trial will be June 10—the DA's office will have to decide whether to re-try the case.