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Deliberations drag out in 1979 case of missing boy Etan Patz

NEW YORK (AP) — For nine days, the 12 jurors asked to see dozens of exhibits, to have hours and hours of trial transcripts read to them and for access to a computer to organize their thoughts about the murder trial of a man accused of killing 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979.

Then, midway through the 10th day Wednesday, came a note: “We are unable to reach a unanimous decision.”

A judge instructed the jury to keep deliberating and on went a waiting game befitting a notorious missing-child case that’s already spanned decades. Looking worn, jurors went back behind closed doors to try to decide whether Pedro Hernandez is guilty of murder and kidnapping.

Protracted deliberations after a long trial aren’t uncommon. Nor are deadlock notes followed by continued deliberations; some eventually produce verdicts.

“Seeing you work . . . I just really believe that we have no reason to believe that some other jury is going to be able to resolve this case,” Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley told jurors.

Hernandez’s lawyers objected to having the jury keep going, saying that amounted to pressure to reach a verdict. Prosecutors have not commented on the case outside of court.

Etan vanished May 25, 1979, after leaving his family’s SoHo apartment to walk to the bus. The disappearance helped galvanize the modern-day missing-children’s movement, with his picture one of the first to appear on a milk carton.

After police received a fresh tip in 2012, Hernandez confessed in a lengthy videotape that he choked Etan in the basement of a New York City convenience store. Defense attorneys tried to convince the jury the defendant is mentally ill, that his confession was a delusion and that a convicted pedophile, now jailed in Pennsylvania, was the more likely culprit.

Opening statements began at the end of January, when the city was in the midst of a harsh winter. The deliberations have helped push the trial well into spring — something the judge has alluded to when bidding farewell to jurors each evening.

“Have a great night,” he said Tuesday. “You’ll like the weather outside.”

Jurors appeared to be getting along at least until Wednesday, when they came into court stone-faced after saying they were at an impasse. But several nodded as the judge noted that their 10 days of deliberating hadn’t all been in discussion — it was punctuated by lengthy readbacks and, on the first day, a break for birthday cake.

Since beginning deliberations April 15, jurors have asked for — and mostly gotten — a variety of items including Hernandez’s videotaped confessions, recordings of jail calls between Hernandez and his wife after his arrest and a missing-person poster signed by Hernandez.

They’ve asked for the weather report the day Etan went missing. On video, Hernandez described the weather as nice. Records showed it was cloudy and cool.

They also got access to the computer with a spreadsheet program, but not to a printer they said would help in the process. The judge told them the printer wasn’t feasible.

Before sending their deadlock note, jurors asked Wednesday to have both sides’ closing arguments read back to them, an unusual request. Before the court’s lunch break, the judge asked them to clarify afterward whether they still wanted to re-hear the lengthy summations.

Those on jury watch in the seventh-floor courtroom consist mostly of lawyers, investigators and journalists. Etan’s father, Stan, who attended every day of the trial, has chosen to wait elsewhere.

The defendant’s wife, Rosemary, and their daughter, Becky, have sat in the same row in the courtroom since deliberations began. On Tuesday, Becky Hernandez broke down in tears.

Hernandez, 54, has “been sitting in jail for three years,” Fishbein said. “But I can’t stress enough the toll this has taken on his wife and daughter, particularly his daughter.”

Deliberations were scheduled to run through Wednesday afternoon, barring further developments.


Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

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