A judge declared a mistrial in the Etan Patz murder case after the 12-person jury, deliberating for an 18th day, sent him a note for the third time saying they could not agree on whether 54-year-old Pedro Hernandez killed the 6-year-old child in 1979.
The jury of five men and seven women said Friday they were unable to reach a unanimous decision in the SoHo case, which has haunted New York City for decades, after re-hearing closing arguments from both sides last week.
Eleven of the jurors believed he was guilty; one held out against a conviction, the panel revealed. The lone holdout, Adam Sirois, told reporters he couldn't overcome reasonable doubt; he said he felt mental issues were at play, citing Hernandez's "bizarre" confession, and said he had concerns about the police tactics through which that confession was attained.
Twice before, on Tuesday and April 29, the jurors told state Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley they could not agree to convict or acquit Hernandez of murder and kidnapping charges. Both times, Maxwell told them to keep trying to reach a verdict.
The defense moved for an immediate mistrial Friday, as it did the first two times the jurors said they were deadlocked. This time, Wiley granted the motion.
He dismissed the jurors, thanking them for their service. Etan Patz's father, Stanley Patz, and other relatives of the little boy sat silently as the jury left the courtroom.
Hernandez was a teenage stock clerk in the neighborhood at the time Patz disappeared but had never been considered a suspect. His name appears in law enforcement paperwork only one time during their lengthy probe.
Speaking to the media after the mistrial was granted, Stanley Patz said after listening to the months of testimony and debating the merits of various witnesses, his family is convinced Hernandez "is guilty of the crimes to which he has confessed beyond any reasonable doubt."
"The family of Etan Patz has waited 36 years for a resolution as to what happened to our sweet little boy in 1979," the father said. "Let me make very clear that we are frustrated and very disappointed that the jury has been unable to come to decision. Our long ordeal is not over."
Stanley Patz said Hernandez told police elements about his son's disappearance that nobody else knew.
"When he was 18 years old, he did something terrible," he said of Hernandez. "Maybe he's a good man now. He should pay for it."
The judge delayed formally announcing the mistrial until the Patz family could make their way into court. Hernandez appeared visibly relieved as he waited for the decision. Nearby, his wife and daughter bowed their heads in prayer. One of his lawyers, Harvey Fishbein, said the defense was disappointed by the mistrial, as it had been hoping for an acquittal, but that they will be ready if prosecutors re-try the case.
The Manhattan district attorney's office asked for a new trial date, though it wasn't immediately clear if prosecutors intended to bring the case against Hernandez again. There is no timetable on an open murder indictment and Hernandez will remain in custody until it is closed, the judge said.
The jurors labored over their deliberations for more than two weeks and 115 hours, asking for reviews of exhibits and hours of testimony from key witnesses in what became the longest New York City criminal trial deliberations in decades. They discussed the case for about two dozen hours alone over the past week while sending only two minor notes -- the longest stretch of time the group had weighed the evidence without sending more correspondence to the court.
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said the challenges in the Patz case were "exacerbated by the passage of time," but he said he firmly believes "there is clear and corroborated evidence of the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Vance thanked the jury for their service over the last several months and the Patz family for their "courage and determination" over the last few decades.
Etan Patz disappeared 36 years ago this month.
Jurors heard from 56 witnesses -- just nine of those for the defense -- during the 10-week trial, but a key issue has been statements from the alleged killer himself.
Hernandez confessed to the crime in 2012 in a case that galvanized the missing-children's movement and confounded law enforcement for decades. Patz's body was never found, nor was any trace of clothing or his belongings. No physical evidence tied Hernandez to the case. The defense said the admissions were the fictional ravings of a mentally ill man with a low IQ.
The Maple Shade, New Jersey, man made the stunning admissions after police received a tip from a relative that he may have been involved in the case.
"I grabbed him by the neck and started choking him," Hernandez told authorities. "I was nervous. My legs were jumping. I wanted to let go, but I just couldn't let go. I felt like something just took over me."
The trial began in late January, and jurors heard from members of a prayer circle that Hernandez made tearful admissions during a retreat in the summer of 1979 that matched some of what he told authorities on video 33 years later. The prayer group members testified Hernandez said he gave a child a soda, took him to the store basement and choked him. One said Hernandez also admitted abusing the boy. When talking to police, Hernandez denied molesting Patz.
In closing arguments for the prosecution, Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said Hernandez lured Patz to the basement of the shop because he saw the boy had a dollar. He then choked the child to shut him up after whatever happened in the cellar, she said, and added that the motive was sexual.
Illuzzi-Orbon also argued that Hernandez's first confession -- the one to the prayer group shortly after Patz disappeared -- was the most accurate. He was confessing to God, and he was trying to unburden himself, the prosecutor said.
Neighbors and former acquaintances testified about other admissions from Hernandez.
Fishbein said during closing arguments for the defense that Hernandez was "the only witness against himself." He pointed to longtime suspect Jose Ramos, a convicted pedophile who admitted to a federal prosecutor that he had been with Patz the day the boy vanished.
A former jailhouse informant who was working with them gave a stomach-turning account of conversations he had with Ramos that included details on molesting Patz. Manhattan prosecutors never felt there was enough evidence to charge him with the crime.
In closing arguments, the defense honed in on Ramos.
"We did find out why Etan disappeared — but it was not because of Pedro Hernandez," Fishbein said. "It was because of Jose Ramos."
Patz's photo was one of the first on milk cartons. The day he went missing, May 25, was later named National Missing Children's Day.