The Saga of Etan Patz Goes to Jury


 A jury of seven men and five women was expected to begin deliberations Wednesday, faced with the daunting task of deciding between two scenarios about who abducted and killed a six-year-old boy named  Etan Patz in SoHo 36 years ago.

Whether the outcome will finally bring what psychologists call closure to the victim’s parents, Julie and Stanley Patz, by convicting the defendant Pedro Hernandez, rests with the panelists.

”What happened to Etan can be resolved today,” Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi – Orbon told jurors in Manhattan Supreme Court on Tuesday. She led the prosecution since the trial began in January and has been fighting hard to show that the Hernandez, 54, murdered the boy, though no physical evidence exists.

Etan, the “lovely little boy” Illuzzi – Orbon described in her closing argument, said he was an obedient child and the type who never wanted to disappoint his mother. But she had to take a “leap of faith” the day she let him walk to the bus stop alone, the prosecutor said. Etan vanished without a trace and his body was never found.

With the dollar he earned, Etan wanted to buy himself a soda at a nearby bodega, the same one Hernandez, then 18, worked as a clerk stocking shelves.

Illuzzi – Orbon said that Hernandez liked to observe boys, and when he saw Etan, he took the opportunity to offer him a drink to lure him into the bodega basement.

 “Why would Etan go with any adult into a dark basement?” she questioned and claimed that Hernandez had intentions to harm the boy.

After six hours of grueling interrogation, Hernandez broke down and told investigators in a 2012 videotape confession, that he enticed Etan with a soda and strangled him in the basement, choking him to death.

“When I asked him (Etan) to go down, my mind was already made up,” Hernandez told Armand Durastanti, a prosecutor, and witness in the case.

“What were you going to do?” he asked Hernandez.

“I was going to choke him,” Hernandez said.

Defense attorneys argue that Hernandez made false statements under pressure and is a result of his low IQ and personality disorder. A defense witness and psychiatrist, Dr. Michael First, said he diagnosed Hernandez with schizotypal personality disorder because he fit the symptoms of hallucination and depression, limiting Hernandez to distinguish reality from fantasy.

“Where is the mental illness?” Illuzzi – Orbon fired back at defense attorneys. “He’s perfectly fine, there is nothing wrong with this man!”

To create doubt in jurors’ minds the defense also introduced the the theory that convicted child molester Jose Ramos, now serving more than 20 years in prison and the prime suspect in the case during the 80’s, was the culprit.

At one point, Ramos told jailhouse informants that he was “90 percent,” sure the boy he picked up at Washington Square was Etan. Illuzzi – Orbon said that it was highly unlikely that the boy ran off with the “despicable pedophile.”

Etan’s case has haunted New York City for more than three decades and changed the perspective of parenting across the nation. His disappearance on May 25, 1979 is marked as National Missing Children’s Day.

Illuzzi – Orbon closed her argument by reminding jurors that justice relies in their hands. “You are the people, this is the place and this is the time,” she said

 If convicted, Hernandez faces life in prison.

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