A former store clerk was convicted Tuesday of murder in one of the nation’s most haunting missing-child cases, nearly 38 years after 6-year-old Etan Patz disappeared on the way to the school bus stop.
Pedro Hernandez showed no reaction as jurors delivered their verdict. Another jury had deadlocked following 18 days of deliberation in 2015, leading to a retrial that spanned more than three months. Hernandez, who once worked in a convenience store in Etan’s neighborhood, had confessed, but his lawyers said his admissions were the false imaginings of a mentally ill man.
This time, the jury deliberated over nine days before finding Hernandez, 56, guilty of murder during a kidnapping in a case that shaped both parenting and law enforcement practices in the United States.
Some of the jurors from the first trial attended the second one, and several of them wept Tuesday as the verdict was read. The slain boy’s father, Stan Patz, was being comforted by the ex-jurors and appeared to wipe tears from his eyes.
“I am truly relieved and I’ll tell you, it’s about time,” Stan Patz told reporters.
He said he didn’t expect the first jury to deadlock, but said the prosecutors’ presentation answered questions for him about his son’s disappearance.
“I needed to know what happened to my son,” Patz said. “This great prosecution team finally proved it – at least I knew it back then, regardless of the verdict, at least I know what happened.”
Patz said he had spoken on the phone briefly with his wife. He said she was crying.
In a statement, District Attorney Cyrus Vance said Etan’s case “will no longer be remembered as one of the city’s oldest and most painful unsolved crimes,” CBS New York reports.
“The disappearance of Etan Patz haunted families in New York and across the country for nearly four decades,” Vance said. “Etan’s legacy will endure through his family’s long history of advocacy on behalf of missing children. However, it is my hope that today’s verdict provides the Patz family with the closure they so desperately deserve.”
The Patz family and authorities may never know exactly what became of the boy. No trace of him has been found since the May day he vanished, on the first day he got the grown-up privilege of walking alone to the bus stop about two blocks away in the then-edgy but neighborly SoHo section of lower Manhattan.
Etan became one of the first missing children ever pictured on milk cartons, and the anniversary of his disappearance has been designated National Missing Children’s Day. His parents lent their voices to a campaign to make missing children a national cause, and it fueled laws that established a national hotline and made it easier for law enforcement agencies to share information about vanished youngsters.
And his disappearance helped tilt parenting to more protectiveness in a nation where many families had felt comfortable letting children play and roam in their neighborhoods alone.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS