November 15, 2012 / 6:44 AM / 5 years ago

N.J. man who confessed to Etan Patz's murder to appear in court

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The man who confessed to the 1979 killing of 6-year-old Etan Patz will face murder and kidnapping charges during a court appearance in Manhattan on Thursday, in a case that has haunted the city for more than three decades and altered the way the nation responds to missing children.

New York Police investigate an alleyway close to where Etan Patz disappeared 33 years ago in New York May 25, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/Files

Pedro Hernandez, 51, is scheduled to appear in state court on the charges, which were handed down by a grand jury on Wednesday, according to a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Hernandez could enter a plea. The results of a psychiatric evaluation of Hernandez that will determine whether he is mentally competent to stand trial may also be discussed.

Patz’s disappearance from a Manhattan street on May 25, 1979, on his first walk alone to the school bus stop, drew national attention. He was one of the first missing children whose face appeared on a milk carton as part of an appeal for information from the public.

Three decades later, Hernandez confessed in May to luring the boy and strangling him. He had worked at a deli near the Patz home in the downtown Soho neighborhood in the late 1970s before moving to New Jersey.

Hernandez’s lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, said his client suffers from schizophrenia and his mental illness prompted his statement to police. He said there is no other evidence against his client. Patz’s body was never found.

The mystery surrounding Patz’s disappearance, which changed the way authorities respond to missing children reports, will not be solved by putting his client on trial, Fishbein said.

“Nothing that occurs in the course of this trial will answer what actually happened to Etan Patz,” Fishbein said in a statement on Wednesday.

For years, another man, Jose Ramos, a friend of Patz’s babysitter, was the prime suspect in the case, although he was never criminally charged. Ramos was found liable for Patz’s death in a 2004 civil case.

Ramos, 69, was recently released from a Pennsylvania prison after serving 20 years for molesting children but was immediately rearrested pending other charges.

Editing by Philip Barbara

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