The man accused of killing 6-year-old Etan Patz recounted how he lured the boy with a soda, choked him and then dumped his body in a walkway in Manhattan more than 35 years ago in video played for jurors Tuesday.
The videotaped confession of Pedro Hernandez was played at his murder trial Tuesday, one day after the man's ex-wife and a childhood friend testified that Hernandez told them about killing someone in the years following Patz's disappearance in 1979. Hernandez, a mentally ill man with low IQ, was arrested on murder and kidnapping charges after he confessed to killing the boy to police in May of 2012.
After a brief technical delay, jurors watched Hernandez explain how he lured and choked the child.
Sitting at an empty desk, Hernandez can be seen telling police he can't remember what the boy was wearing, that Etan had a cap on when he vanished, or that the weather was bad that day. He says he tossed the boy's book bag behind a freezer; no bag was ever found. He doesn't remember the boy saying anything, and nothing in particular caught his attention that made him choose the boy, he says.
"I just approached to him or I asked him, you want a soda? I said come with me," he said. "He didn't say nothing to me. He didn't kick. He wasn't angry. He just kind of stood there, and I just felt bad what I did."
Hernandez then recalls choking Patz, saying how he wanted to let go of the child's neck but being unable to.
"I was nervous," Hernandez can be heard saying on the tape. "My legs were jumping. i wanted to let go. I just couldn't let go. It's like something just took over me. And I just choked him."
Hernandez said in the video that Patz was still alive when he put the boy's body first in a plastic bag and then in a cardboard box. He said he then carried the box about a block and a half and then left it in a walkway. When he came back the next day, he told investigators, the box was gone.
Hernandez's lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, has argued his client falsely confessed and lacks the mental ability to understand his rights. He described Hernandez' demeanor on camera as exhausted from hours of questioning; Hernandez had been in custody nearly eight hours when the taping began.
"When those eight hours were finished, he was convinced he had something to do with the disappearance of Etan Patz," Fishbein said last year, after the tapes were first reviewed by a judge.
On Monday, Hernandez's ex-wife, Daisy Rivera, testified that he had told her in 1982 that he strangled someone before they were married. She also said she found a cut-out photo of Patz in a box where Hernandez put his keepsakes.
One of Hernandez's childhood friends also testified Monday and recalled an instance in 1980 when Hernandez said he strangled a boy who threw a ball at his throat. Hernandez's friend said that he never called the police because he didn't believe the story.
Patz was last seen alive walking to the bus stop on May 25, 1979. His disappearance ushered in a new protectiveness into American parenting. He became one of the first missing children featured on milk cartons. His parents advocated for legislation that created a nationwide law-enforcement framework to address such cases. The anniversary of his disappearance is now National Missing Children's Day.
Investigators jotted down Hernandez's name in 2012 during a feverish search for Patz, but it wasn't until 2012 that he emerged as a suspect. The apparent breakthrough in the case was based on a tip and a videotaped confession that prosecutors say was foreshadowed by remarks he made to friends and relatives in the 1980s.
His defense hinges on convincing jurors that the confession is false, along with suggesting that the real killer may be a convicted Pennsylvania child molester who was a prime suspect for years.
The trial is expected to continue for as much as three months.