The man suspected of killing a 6-year-old boy in one of New York City's most notorious missing children's cases bursts into tears during a videotaped confession as detectives hug and comfort him, assuring him that he did the right thing by coming forward.
The video played Thursday in Manhattan state Supreme Court was the first taped confession by Pedro Hernandez, arrested in May 2012 for the killing of Etan Patz who disappeared May 25, 1979. But it is the second tape viewed by Judge Maxwell Wiley, who must decide whether the confessions will be used as evidence in Hernandez' upcoming murder trial — not whether the admissions are true. A third video of Hernandez showing detectives where he said he dumped the boy's body was also expected to be shown.
Etan vanished while walking to a bus stop on the first day he was allowed to walk to school alone. His body has never been found. The day he disappeared became National Missing Children's Day.
Hernandez has pleaded not guilty and his attorney Harvey Fishbein says the confessions are false; Hernandez has a history of mental illness and an IQ bordering on intellectual disability.
The 53-year-old suspect is more emotional in the confession shown Thursday than the previous video, while describing in nearly identical words how he choked Etan, put the boy alive into a plastic bag, put the bag in a box and left it about two blocks away. He said he went back the next day but the box was gone.
"Somebody had moved him from there," he said, his voice cracking. "I know that I did what I did, but he was alive, he wasn't dead. And somebody must have done something. I didn't kill him, I don't know, I didn't do it. I'm not sure. I don't know what happened."
Attorney Fishbein is arguing the confessions should not be public because they were wrongly obtained in part because Hernandez did not understand his right to leave, to remain silent and right to an attorney. The video shows suspect signing his initials to so-called Miranda rights, the warning often heard in crime dramas.
On the tape, three detectives question the suspect in a tiny, windowless room. They offer him food, cigarettes, and remind him that he needs to get his medicine. One rubs Hernandez' head, another put his hands on his shoulder and a third says Hernandez has the "strength of the Lord."
On the witness stand, Det. David Ramirez choked up as he was describing the confession. "It was a very emotional time," he said.
The case has plagued the NYPD for decades. After new stories about a search in Manhattan in April 2012, police got a tip from a relative about Hernandez. Police later learned that Hernandez had confessed to killing a boy at least three different times: Once to his ex-wife, once to a prayer group, and once to a neighbor, according to testimony.
The detectives ask Hernandez whether he has anything to say to the boy's family. "I'm really sorry. That I never meant to hurt their child," he said.
"I hope they can forgive me for what I did."