The man accused of luring 6-year-old Etan Patz into a basement and killing him 33 years ago will plead not guilty to kidnapping and murder charges when he is arraigned next month, his lawyer said Thursday.
Pedro Hernandez, who police say volunteered a confession in May, appeared in court on Thursday, a day after murder and kidnapping charges were handed up by a grand jury. The former SoHo bodega clerk wore a gray T-shirt, sweatpants and handcuffs. He did not speak. His arraignment is scheduled for Dec. 12.
Speaking to reporters outside the Manhattan courtroom, Hernandez's defense attorney Harvey Fishbein said his client, who is schizophrenic, is not guilty and that he did not commit this crime despite confessing to it in May. He said his client's reason for it would come out in court.
"The really sad part of this case is that it will take time, it will take money ... and it will not tell the city what happened to Etan Patz," Fishbein said.
Hernandez was arrested last spring, 33 years after Patz disappeared off a SoHo street in a tragic case that mystified New York City for decades.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said at the time that police focused on Hernandez, who now lives in Maple Shade, N.J., after the Missing Persons Squad received a tip from someone who remembered Hernandez speaking of having killed a child.
According to the criminal complaint, Hernandez told police he lured the boy into a bodega where he worked, where he took him to the basement, strangled him and placed him inside a plastic bag.
Fishbein said Hernandez has recently been diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder, which includes hallucinations. Fishbein cited both court-ordered and private psychiatric evaluations and said the entire case is based on statements made by his mentally ill client.
The police, he said, "have uncovered nothing that would support my client's statements."
The boy's body has never been found. On Wednesday, a man who answered the intercom at the child's 1979 home said the family had no comment.
Patz's parents had a court declare the boy legally dead more than a decade ago, allowing them to sue convicted child molester Jose Ramos in his death.
Ramos was found responsible — a ruling made because he didn't entirely cooperate with questioning during the lawsuit — but it's unclear how that finding could now factor into the prosecution of Hernandez.
Ramos, now 69, had been dating the boy's baby sitter in 1979 and was considered a suspect. He was later convicted of molesting two different children and was in prison in Pennsylvania prison for more than a quarter-century.
Brian O'Dwyer, the Patz family attorney, declined to discuss the parents' views on the case. His own opinion, he told NBC 4 New York, is that Ramos was the boy's killer, not Hernandez
“I think there is significant evidence that this is a man who has serious mental problems," O'Dwyer said. "I don’t believe the confession.”
Ramos had been scheduled to be released last week, but he was immediately rearrested on a charge of failing to register properly as a sex offender; authorities said he'd lied about where he planned to live, giving an address a relative vacated long ago. He was ordered to stand trial Thursday for allegedly providing authorities with a bogus address.