Yesterday, after months of testimony and almost 19 days of deliberations, a jury was unable to convict Pedro Hernandez for the murder of six-year-old Etan Patz, and a judge called a mistrial. The vote was 11 to one to convict, and the holdout juror Adam Sirois, a 35-year-old Upper West Side resident, said, "Ultimately I couldn’t find enough evidence that wasn’t circumstantial to convict. I couldn’t get there."
Etan's disappearance while walking in Soho in 1979 kickstarted a nationwide movement to find missing children. His body was never found, and one of the main suspects at the time, a drifter named Jose Ramos, who dated one of Etan's babysitters and who was arrested while allegedly trying to sexually assault some young blond boys, told investigators at one point he was 90% sure he had taken Etan (but said he put him on a subway).
Ramos, a convicted pedophile, was found guilty of killing Etan in a 2004 civil case, but in 2012, the NYPD reopened the case based on tips. At first, the authorities were interested in a neighborhood carpenter but later arrested Pedro Hernandez, a NJ man who, as an 18-year-old, worked at a bodega in the neighborhood. Cops said that Hernandez confessed to strangling Etan and putting his body in a garbage bag, noting that he had also told relatives and members of his church group that he had strangled a boy.
However, Hernandez's lawyers pointed out that he only confessed to police after being interrogated for over six hours (he tried to leave the interrogation a few times, but cops convinced him to stay) and that he has schizophrenia and other mental issues and that he was essentially coerced into confessing. In 2012, a police official told the NY Times "that investigators were now trying to find reasons to trust Mr. Hernandez’s story. Why would a man with no known history of pedophilia or murderous impulses lure a boy into a bodega basement and strangle him? 'He doesn’t give any motivation in the statement,' the official said. 'The admission was totally unsolicited.'"
Sirois told reporters about his decision not to convict, "For me his confession was very bizarre no matter how many times it happened it got more and more bizarre. And I felt like mental health issues were a huge part of this case."
Further, the question of reasonable doubt hung in the air: The New Yorker's Amy Davidson wrote that the "defense’s strongest argument" was "the case against Hernandez was no more solid than the one against Ramos."
“Two confessions,” Fishbein said in his closing argument. “One by Pedro Hernandez. One by Ramos. Both can’t be true.”
The doubt in this case was not just reasonable. It was, and is, profound. There was no real physical evidence. Etan’s body was never found. Ramos is a frightening figure, who once tried to lure children into a drainpipe in Van Cortlandt Park, in the Bronx. He’d been living in the drainpipe, and police found pictures of boys Etan’s age among his possessions."
But juror Jennifer O'Connor said, "A large chunk of people who were unsure, who had a feeling but hadn’t got to past reasonable doubt yet. It took a few days for me to work through and analyze the testimony and the corroborating evidence." From the Daily News:
But Hernandez’s troubled history with drugs and mental issues eventually convinced the events coordinator from the Upper East Side that he was the one who killed Etan.
“It seemed to be a profile of someone who did something heinous and was trying to repress it, suppress it, bury it deep down and that was another big piece for me.”
One juror, Douglas Hitchner, had been a holdout until Friday morning. According to the NY Times, "He said there was 'no question' that Mr. Hernandez was there that day, and Mr. Hitchner decided that the 'quality' of his confessions — to friends and relatives years before he confessed to prosecutors — “is what sort of swayed me to finally go guilty."
O'Connor also said, "Me personally, I’m very sad that we could not bring resolution for the case, for a lot of reasons, for the Patz family, for the Hernandez family, for the City of New York. But we really tried our hardest, and I don’t think we could have done any more."
While Sirois said, "I feel all of my fellow jurors were very respectful of my position. I’m proud to be on a jury with all of them, even if I don’t agree with all of them about the decision," another juror said of Sirois, "We never want to see him again. "He was delusional. He was totally irrational about everything." Sirois was reportedly not invited to the other jurors' post-trial dinner. And one juror, Alia Dahaan, said to TV cameras, "Pedro Hernandez! You know what you did!"
Stan Patz, Etan's father, said, "This man did it. He said it. How many times does a man have to confess before someone believes him? Maybe Pedro Hernandez is a different man, now that he's mature and 54, but when he was 18 years old, he did something terrible, and he should pay for that... Our long ordeal is not over." He urged the Manhattan DA's office to retry the case.
Fishbein, Hernandez's lawyer, said, "I would say that there's only a resolution if the correct man is held responsible, and we firmly believe that Pedro Hernandez is not the right man. We are disappointed that there couldn't be a resolution, but if the District Attorney's office chooses to retry this case, we will be ready."
The next date in the trial is June 10.