Jurors attend hearing on retrial in 1979 missing boy case
NEW YORK (AP) — Manhattan prosecutors on Wednesday started the process of retrying the Etan Patz case, one of the nation’s most notorious missing children mysteries during a hearing attended by seven of the jurors involved in last month’s mistrial.
Pedro Hernandez, 54, confessed in 2012 to kidnapping and killing the 6-year-old — more than three decades after the boy disappeared — but his lawyers argued Hernandez was mentally ill and his statements were fictional ravings.
The previous jury voted 11-1 in favor of convicting Hernandez of murder after deliberating 18 days. The lone holdout said he was concerned about Hernandez’s mental state.
The holdout, Adam Sirois, was among the jurors in the audience at Wednesday’s hearing, which was held to provide the court an update on the case. Sirois said afterward that he remains confident in his decision.
“I made my decision on the evidence,” he said. He wouldn’t comment on whether he would help defense attorneys but said if he were rooting for anyone, it would be the defense.
Following the mistrial last month, other jurors said they believed Hernandez could be convicted, and offered suggestions to prosecutors on how to improve their case. Those jurors sat behind the Patz family Wednesday, offering words of encouragement and support. Two alternates also attended.
“I’m very upset,” former jury forewoman Alia Dahhan said after the hearing. “Enough is enough. It’s been 36 years. Pedro Hernandez needs to pay for what he did.”
Jennifer O’Connor said the jurors were methodical in the deliberation room — but now was a time for emotion.
“We’re very frustrated and disheartened still, which is why we’re here supporting the new DA and this team,” she said. “We really wanted to refocus our energies into something positive, turn it back to Etan, back to the Patz family.”
Judge Maxwell Wiley set a court date for Aug. 3 to determine whether jury selection would begin in December or January.
The monthslong trial in May was a glimpse into one family’s story that became a national symbol for the burgeoning missing children’s movement. Etan’s mother Julie testified about the last time she saw her little boy. It was May 25, 1979, a Friday, as he headed off for school, the first time he was allowed to walk alone. He never made to the bus stop. The day he vanished was named National Missing Children’s Day by then-president Ronald Reagan and Etan’s face was among the first to be shown on milk cartons.
The boy’s body was never found nor any clothing or belongings.
A retrial means reassembling witnesses, ones who were called in after three decades and many who are now in their 70s. And the extensive media coverage of the trial could further complicate the already lengthy jury selection process.
The players this time will be slightly different; lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon recently resigned to run for district attorney on Staten Island. Taking over is Joel Seidemann, a longtime prosecutor who tried the case of Anthony D. Marshall, son of heiress Brooke Astor, convicted of stealing from his mother.
Hernandez’s attorneys Harvey Fishbein and Alice Fontier have said they will stay on the case. On Wednesday, Fishbein noted a recent interview Illuzzi-Orbon gave to a local TV station, and said he wanted her public comments on the case to stop, because it could poison the jury pool.
“Ms. Illuzzi is convinced that Mr. Hernandez is guilty. The inference is out there,” he said.
This story has been corrected to show the judge set a court date of Aug. 3, not Aug. 5.
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