April 18 (UPI) -- The man who murdered 6-year-old Etan Patz in New York City nearly 40 years ago will spend at least a quarter-century in prison, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Hernandez, 56, was found guilty of the boy's presumed death based on what was viewed as a videotaped confession to police and prosecutors -- an admission defense attorneys argued resulted from stress and persuasive detectives during interrogation.
Patz's body was never found after he disappeared on his way to elementary school in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City in May 1979. Tuesday, his mother and father were present in the courtroom.
"After all these years we finally know what dark secret you had locked in your heart," father Stan Patz said. "You are the monster in your nightmares. The God you pray to will never forgive you."
"The defendant kept a terrible secret for 33 years," Judge Maxwell Wiley said. "His silence caused the Patz family indescribable anguish and served to compound their grief."
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., reopened the cold case in 2010 at the request of the Patz family. Renewed publicity from the case led to Hernandez's arrest in 2012, and ultimately his conviction. Hernandez was a high school dropout who worked at a store near the boy's bus stop at the time of his disappearance. His first prosecution in 2015 ended in a mistrial.
In the videotaped confessions, Hernandez admitted to luring Patz into the basement of the store and choking him to death. He claimed the boy was still alive when he left him in a nearby alleyway, and denied he was sexually assaulted.
At Tuesday's hearing, Hernandez continued to maintain his innocence.
"He had two things he wanted me to say," defense attorney Harvey Fishbein said in court. "He wants me to express the deep sympathy he has for the Patz family but also to make clear that he's an innocent man."
Patz was one of the first missing children in the United States to appear on a milk carton. He was legally declared dead in 2001.
"Etan was never forgotten," Vance said at Hernandez's sentencing Tuesday. "We refused to let him disappear into history because we were committed to taking another hard look at this case, and that hard look paid off."