Feb. 14 (UPI) -- A jury on Tuesday convicted former bodega clerk Pedro Hernandez of killing Etan Patz, the 6-year-old New York City boy who went missing almost 38 years ago and was the first to have his photo appear on milk cartons.
"Bringing closure on Etan's disappearance to the Patz family has also been among my highest priorities since I took office," Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said in a statement after a jury convicted Pedro Hernandez, 56, of Maple Shade, N.J., of first-degree kidnapping and second-degree murder.
Patz disappeared as he walked two blocks to a school bus stop on May 25, 1979. The case attracted nationwide attention.
Hernandez confessed to choking the first-grader to death when he was 18 years old, but his attorney, Harvey Fishbein, said Hernandez is mentally ill and made up the confession. The defense also said evidence points to another suspect with a connection to the family.
Hernandez's first trial ended in 2015 with a hung jury after 18 days of deliberations.
In the second trial, a jury of eight men and six women deliberated for nine days in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
In 2012, renewed news coverage of the case prompted Hernandez's brother-in-law to tell police his relative decades earlier told a prayer group that he killed a child in New York.
Hernandez confessed to offering the boy a soft drink to get him into the store basement. He then said he choked the boy, put him in a bag, put the bag in a box and left it with the curbside trash. He said he thought the boy was still alive at the time. Etan's body was never found.
The case originally spurred a national hotline for missing children and simplified sharing of information among law enforcement agencies. Photographs of Etan were printed on "missing" posters plastered around the city and then on milk cartons.
The anniversary of his disappearance was designated National Missing Children's Day.
"The disappearance of Etan Patz haunted families in New York and across the country for nearly four decades," Vance Jr. said. "Today, a jury affirmed beyond all lasting doubt that Pedro Hernandez kidnapped and killed the missing child."
Stanley Patz, Etan's father, told The New York Times after the verdict: "I'm really grateful — I'm really grateful — this jury finally came back with what I've known for a long time that this man, Pedro Hernandez, is guilty of doing something really terrible so many years ago."