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Judge: Prosecutors can use confession in Etan Patz disappearance

The body of Etan Patz, the first child to be pictured on a milk carton when he vanished in 1979, has never been found.

By
Frances Burns
The Police Department of New York City supplied this poster of missing Manhattan schoolboy Etan Patz, who disappeared in 1979 his way to school. UPI/HO
The Police Department of New York City supplied this poster of missing Manhattan schoolboy Etan Patz, who disappeared in 1979 his way to school. UPI/HO | License Photo

NEW YORK, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- A former New York bodega worker's admission that he killed 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979 can be used at his trial, a judge ruled Monday.

Lawyers for Pedro Hernandez, 53, argued that police detectives took advantage of Hernandez's mental illness and low intelligence to coerce him into the confession, which was videotaped. Hernandez made his first statement at a police station in Maple Shade, N.J., in 2012 and a second the next day in New York.

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Etan vanished while walking to a school bus stop near his home in the SoHo neighborhood in Manhattan. His body has never been found and his disappearance shook the city.

He was the first missing child to be pictured on a milk carton.

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Hernandez told detectives he offered the boy a soda to get him into a bodega and then choked him.

"I did it. It should never have happened," he told detectives in 2012. "I started choking him. He wasn't dead. He was still gasping."

Prosecutors argued that Hernandez included details in his lengthy confession that suggest it is truthful. A defense lawyer suggested that at the time Hernandez believed he was telling the truth.

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"When the police were finished with him, Mr. Hernandez believed that he killed Etan Patz -- but that doesn't mean that he actually did," defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein told CBS News.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley also ruled that police did not wait too long to read Hernandez his Miranda rights.

Fishbein said a jury will have to decide if the confession is genuine.

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"I think anyone who sees these confessions will understand that when the police were finished with him Mr. Hernandez believed he had killed Etan Patz, but that doesn't mean that he actually did. And that's the whole point of this case. It has been the point of this case for 2 1/2 years," Fishbein said.

The defense also plans to call Jose Ramos, a convicted pedophile, as a witness for Hernandez. Ramos was found responsible for Etan's wrongful death in a civil suit brought by the boy's parents.

The trial is scheduled to begin in January.

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